CLEVELAND - The Orioles couldn't help but grumble about their predicament yesterday, when a day off at home had turned into a makeup game at Jacobs Field, a place where they almost never win.
For eight innings, Jason Johnson made it seem well worth the trip, as he turned the best start of his injury-shortened season. Unfortunately for the Orioles, another strong pitching performance went to waste because it coincided with the disappearance of their offense.
So the pitcher's duel stretched into the 10th inning, and that's when the Cleveland Indians used a well-placed triple from Chris Magruder to pull out a 2-1 victory.
The Orioles fell to 6-1 in extra-inning games and 2-14 in their past 16 games at Jacobs Field.
The schedule makers originally gave all major-league teams yesterday off, figuring some would inevitably have games to make up because of inclement weather. When the Indians and Orioles were rained out here May 16, they shifted the game to yesterday.
For the Orioles, that meant a chance to miss Cleveland ace Bartolo Colon, but it also meant adding a fourth city and another road game to their nine-game trip to Philadelphia, Arizona and San Francisco.
"You don't like to lose a day off," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, "especially this time of year."
Certainly, the situation would have seemed more tolerable with a victory. The Orioles came close.
After losing, 2-0, on Wednesday to the San Diego Padres, the Orioles looked just as hapless against Cleveland starter Chuck Finley. When Jerry Hairston reached third base in the sixth inning, he became the first Oriole to do that since Tony Batista hit a walk-off homer to win in the 10th inning Tuesday night.
The Orioles finally scored in the seventh, as Mike Bordick drew a bases-loaded walk against Finley, tying the score 1-1.
Johnson, who broke his right middle finger on April 25 and spent six weeks on the disabled list, kept pitching as if he were making up for lost time.
Throwing 70 of his 101 pitches for strikes, and recording a season-high seven strikeouts - thanks in large part to a newly improved curveball - Johnson not only finished the eighth inning, he retired 14 of the final 15 batters he faced.
Not bad considering he was on a limited pitch count in his second start since coming off the disabled list. Johnson said his arm strength isn't quite back to normal, but he felt the same pinpoint control he had in holding the New York Yankees to one run in 7 2/3 innings on April 3.
"I feel," Johnson said, "like I'm getting back to where I should be."
Johnson's only blemish came when Ellis Burks hit his first pitch of the fourth inning for his 11th homer. Afterward, Johnson sounded content, even though he joined Sidney Ponson and Rodrigo Lopez as pitchers who have seen excellent performances go unrewarded this week.
Ponson lost a complete game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, 2-1, and Lopez threw a complete game in Wednesday's loss.
"Ten days ago, we'd have died for these three pitching performances," Hargrove said. "We've really started to pitch well the last 10 days. So if you look at the glass as half-full, you'd think we have some guys on the right track."
The Orioles had a chance to win this one in the 10th inning, when they put a runner on second with one out against Cleveland reliever Jerrod Riggan (1-0). But Hairston lined out to deep left field and Riggan fanned Melvin Mora to escape the inning unscathed.
Willis Roberts (3-2) came on to pitch for the Orioles, and Ricky Gutierrez reached with a one-out walk. Magruder then hit a ball that landed a few feet inside the right-field foul line, bouncing on the hard rubber warning track.
As Hargrove said, "He couldn't have gone down there and thrown it with his hand any better."
Orioles right fielder Gary Matthews had been positioned to try to prevent a double in the left-center field gap against the left-handed hitting Magruder. So Matthews had a long run, and even though Gutierrez pulled a groin muscle while running around the bases, he scored easily when Matthews mishandled the ball.
"It hit off the rubber and took sort of a weird bounce," Matthews said. "I was trying to get it before it hit off the wall and it kicked out the other way. He's going from the start of the play, so you've got to get to it sort of fast, sort of like a drop shot in golf."
Ah yes, golf. That sport they could have been playing on a typical day off.
Site:Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia
TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters:Orioles' Sidney Ponson (3-4, 4.32) vs. Phillies' Robert Person (2-3, 4.28)