Mora's home run leads O's by Twins

His eighth-inning blast breaks tie in 3-1 victory, gives Johnson his 4th win

August 16, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS - Orioles pitcher Jason Johnson had to wonder if the nightmare portion of this season would ever end.

It chased him to Detroit at the beginning of this latest road trip, and it followed him to Minnesota for the first seven innings of last night's game. Another strong performance looked as if it would go unrewarded.

Then Johnson looked up and saw Melvin Mora break an eighth-inning tie with a home run into the left-field seats. Finally, the ghost was gone, as the Orioles claimed a 3-1 victory at the Metrodome and yet another series over the Minnesota Twins.

"I was on the bench," Johnson said, describing how he felt when Mora hit the home run. "I was just waiting for him to come in [the dugout], a big smile across my face. I'll take it."

So will the Orioles, who took two of three this week to win the season series from the Twins, 5-1. After losing two of three to start the road trip in Detroit, the Orioles salvaged a .500 trip and now return home to face those same Tigers tonight.

The Orioles have now failed to score more than three runs in 10 of Johnson's 15 starts, but this time they did enough to hand him his first victory since June 29.

He held the Twins to one run on six hits in seven innings, throwing 90 pitches in his second start after missing 2 1/2 weeks with tendinitis in his right shoulder.

At 4-9, Johnson still doesn't have the record to reflect his 4.05 ERA, but he still has six weeks remaining to salvage the season.

"He just needs to keep pitching the way he's pitching," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "I don't know that we're looking for him to all of a sudden to turn into Jason `No-No' Johnson. What he's doing right now is good enough. He needs to continue to do that."

Hargrove will also take what he's getting from Mora, who has 16 home runs after coming into the season with 15 for his career.

Leading off the eighth inning, Mora took a monster cut off a 2-0 slider from Twins starter Kyle Lohse. Two pitches later, Mora crushed a 91-mph fastball an estimated 370 feet over the left-field wall.

Those were two big swings for a leadoff man in a tie game, but Hargrove was forgiving.

"When he swung at a slider on 2-0, I wanted to strangle him," Hargrove said. "But I wanted to kiss him when he hit the ball out."

Lohse (10-7), a baby-faced right-hander who could wind up leading the Twins' injury-hampered rotation in innings pitched, took the kind of hard-luck loss that Johnson has grown accustomed to this season. Lohse allowed two runs on four hits in seven-plus innings.

Both teams had exhausted large chunks of their bullpens in Wednesday night's marathon, which the Orioles eventually won, 6-5, on Geronimo Gil's 14th-inning home run.

This was especially important for the Orioles because Hargrove was holding Johnson to lower-than normal pitch count. Johnson threw 72 pitches last Friday in Detroit, allowing just one run in five innings. He took the loss, saying it felt like the story of his season. It was the third time he was on the losing end of a shutout.

This time, Johnson had the lead when he went to the mound for the first inning. After Lohse retired Mora to start the game, Singleton smashed his seventh home run of the season.

"I felt really good tonight," Johnson said. "Singleton hitting that first-inning homer helped me to be a little more relaxed because I knew if they get one run, it's still tied."

Johnson breezed through the first four innings on just 38 pitches, consistently mixing a 93-mph fastball with his sharp-breaking curve. Corey Koskie hit a two-out double in the first, but Johnson fanned David Ortiz with a nasty 84-mph curveball.

Ortiz waved at the same pitch to end the fourth inning.

"His breaking ball is a lot sharper than it was," Hargrove said. "When you have tendinitis in your shoulder, besides the pain, it weakens the muscles in there, and your endurance is a lot less than it should be, and you can't be as consistent with your pitches."

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