Toronto HRs drive off O's, Johnson, 6-3

2 sets of consecutive HRs keep him winless vs. Jays

He loses velocity in 5th inning

Contact lens slips, too

Gibbons hits 19th homer

July 23, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The radar gun at Camden Yards registered one of Jason Johnson's fastballs last night at 43 mph.

It only looked that slow.

Toronto's batters reacted as though every pitch were suspended in the air. Facing a team he still hasn't beaten, Johnson gave up four home runs in 5 1/3 innings, and the Orioles couldn't rally in a 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays before 27,235 at Camden Yards.

Vernon Wells and Chris Woodward hit back-to-back homers to break a scoreless tie in the fifth, and Carlos Delgado and Wells connected in succession during the Blue Jays' four-run sixth.

Johnson is 0-6 with a 7.20 ERA lifetime in 11 career starts vs. Toronto, including Wednesday's 7-1 loss at SkyDome. In that game, the Blue Jays reached him for three homers.

Unable to gain any feel of his breaking pitches last night, Johnson (3-8) became too reliant on a fastball that lost velocity in the middle innings.

"I used the same pitches that I used earlier and gave up the home runs later," said Johnson, who has lost three straight decisions. "I was throwing 93, 94 [mph] in the beginning, and then it went down to 90. I didn't have the speed, didn't have the location. I've got to get the strength back in my arm and be able to hold the speed of my fastball through five, six, seven innings."

Johnson retired 10 in a row before taking the mound for the fifth. One of his contact lenses slipped above his eye - causing him to lose focus in the literal sense - and bringing trainer Richie Bancells from the dugout. Johnson then rushed through his warm-up tosses, and the next two batters homered.

"I had a pretty good rhythm going," he said.

So do the Blue Jays. They've won nine of their past 11 to move 4 1/2 games behind the third-place Orioles (47-50), who did all their scoring in the fifth off Roy Halladay (12-4).

Jay Gibbons hit his 19th homer, and his 11th on the first pitch. The Blue Jays committed two errors in the inning, with Eric Hinske's wide throw to first base tying the game. Melvin Mora gave the Orioles their only lead with a two-out single.

Gibbons remains a streaky home run threat. All three of his career multi-homer games have come this month, including Sunday's loss to the Chicago White Sox. He has connected five times in the past eight games.

"I think with Jay's stroke and his ability, that the more he plays and the more experience he gains, the more he'll become consistent," manager Mike Hargrove said.

The day began for the Orioles with news of pitcher Scott Erickson's arrest on charges of second-degree assault in a domestic dispute. Hargrove dismissed the possibility that team chemistry could be affected.

"Scott's a grown man. He's a part of our family, he's a part of this team, and we'll support him as such," Hargrove said.

The Orioles' on-field issues included Johnson's inability to conquer the Blue Jays, though he's twice pitched complete games against them. Toronto and the Cleveland Indians are the only American League teams Johnson hasn't defeated.

Trying to rally for him in the seventh, the Orioles loaded the bases with one out. Mora swung through a high fastball with the count full, and Chris Singleton flied out to the warning track.

Reliever Chris Brock allowed only one hit in 3 2/3 scoreless innings. He has permitted two hits over his last four outings covering 7 2/3 innings.

Johnson didn't get his first ground ball out until the fourth. Except for one strikeout, the outfielders stayed busy.

He got the fans involved in the fifth. Wells led off with his 13th homer, and Woodward followed with his sixth on a 2-2 fastball. Singles by Hinske and Jose Cruz preceded Delgado's blast, and Wells connected after a visit from pitching coach Mark Wiley.

A double by Woodward brought more angry rumblings from the crowd, and Hargrove made a pitching change after Josh Phelps flied out.

"Jason threw real well the first four innings, spotted his fastball well, but struggled to find his changeup and breaking ball. It got to the point where he didn't trust either one of those," Hargrove said. "He went to his fastball and started missing his locations and got hit hard."

Halladay departed after seven innings. He has defeated the Orioles twice this month, both times against Johnson.

The loss dropped the Orioles to 3-4 since shortstop Mike Bordick fractured his right kneecap. He continues to play catch while wearing a brace to immobilize his leg.

Doctors instructed Bordick to wear the brace for three weeks before re-examining the knee, and club officials were prepared to lose him for at least a month. But Bordick expressed confidence yesterday that he could return sooner.

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