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 like 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 held on to take another series from the Minnesota Twins with a 3-1 victory at the Metrodome.

"I was on the bench," Johnson (4-9) said. "I was just waiting for [Mora] to come in there, a big smile across my face. I'll take it."

It was the 10th time in Johnson's 15 starts that the Orioles failed to score more than three runs, 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.

Chris Singleton also hit a home run for the Orioles, who took two of three this week to claim the season series from the Twins, 5-1. Against the first-place teams in the American League, the Orioles are now 16-11.

"He just needs to keep pitching the way he's pitching," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said of Johnson. "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.

Mora led off the eighth inning, and took a big 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 big swings for a leadoff man in a tie game, but Hargrove was forgiving.

"When he swung on 2-0 at a slider, 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-plagued rotation in innings pitched this season, 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.

Hargrove held Johnson to 72 pitches last Friday in Detroit, pulling Johnson after he allowed just one run in five innings. Johnson took the loss in that game, 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 a first-inning lead to work with. After Lohse retired Mora to start the game, Singleton launched his seventh home run of the season over the right-field wall.

"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 curve, down and in.

Ortiz waved at the same pitch to end the fourth inning, right after Johnson had set him up with a 93-mph fastball just off the outside corner.

"His breaking ball is 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."

The Orioles turned three double plays behind Johnson, extending their AL-leading total to 131.

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