Orioles walk away with 2-1 victory

9th-inning gift settles it

Johnson baffles Red Sox

April 06, 2003|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Intrigued by pitcher Jason Johnson's quality stuff but perplexed by his collection of losing records, the Orioles keep waiting for his light to come on. And they keep hoping it isn't 25 watts.

Johnson burned brightest yesterday against one of baseball's most intimidating pitchers, limiting the Boston Red Sox to an infield hit by Manny Ramirez through six innings and leaving with the slimmest of leads. Though he didn't get the decision, he gained a little more respect from both clubhouses.

On this day, that would suffice, especially with a favorable outcome smoothing away any ripples of disappointment.

In a finish that provided the latest twist to a bizarre first week of the season, Tony Batista walked with the bases loaded in the ninth inning to give the Orioles a 2-1 victory over the Red Sox before 41,821 at Camden Yards.

Closer Jorge Julio, in his first save opportunity since Aug. 15, walked four batters in the ninth to tie the game. Red Sox manager Grady Little removed Pedro Martinez, whose pitch count stood at 92, and again trusted his volatile bullpen, but Chad Fox almost hit Batista with the count full to give the Orioles their first win since Opening Day.

"We'll take it," said manager Mike Hargrove. "Jason matched Pedro pitch for pitch, which is a difficult thing to do."

Throwing strikes the last inning was more challenging. Johnson and Martinez painted a masterpiece. Julio and Fox preferred dogs playing poker.

Julio shouted in disgust after walking Johnny Damon with two outs to force in pinch-runner Damian Jackson. B.J. Ryan replaced him and struck out Shea Hillenbrand, allowing the Orioles to rally against Fox.

B.J. Surhoff walked with one out and Jeff Conine lined a double down the left field line. Jay Gibbons was walked intentionally, and Fox fell behind Batista 3-0 before throwing two strikes. His last pitch was tight, just like the stomachs of Red Sox fans after Martinez left the game.

"I got beat. I'll take full blame for that one," Fox said. "There was no factor out there other than I didn't execute my job. I wish I could say it was cold or snowing, but there was nothing."

The season's first week has been filled with oddities for the Orioles, so yesterday's walkathon didn't faze them.

They played through two snow squalls on Opening Day. Accumulation: one victory. Their offense went into hiding during two losses to the Cleveland Indians. And they almost pulled out a dramatic win on Friday, only to end the game with the potential tying run being cut down at home plate.

A male fan wearing only gray shorts rushed onto the field in the seventh inning Friday, twice eluding police with jitterbug moves, and was tackled at home plate after waving an imaginary bat and calling his home-run shot. It seemed appropriate at the time, since the Orioles' offense had been undressed for three games. But a furious ninth-inning rally, though falling short, brought at least a semblance of momentum into yesterday's game.

Martinez was there to greet it.

This is a pitcher who went 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA against the Orioles last season. A pitcher who's owned them for so long, he should carry a receipt. Before yesterday, he was 7-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 10 career games.

The Orioles broke the scoreless tie in the sixth with a one-out triple from Jerry Hairston and a grounder by Gary Matthews. First baseman David Ortiz fielded the ball near the line and stepped on the bag before throwing home. Hairston slid around catcher Jason Varitek, touching the plate with his left hand.

"It's what they call a productive out," Matthews said.

In his two starts this season, Martinez has allowed one earned run in 15 innings. Both of the Red Sox losses have come in those games. Yesterday, he surrendered four hits, walked none and struck out six.

Johnson couldn't convince pitching coach Mark Wiley that he was strong enough to continue after retiring Ortiz to begin the seventh. His velocity was down, and his pace between pitches had slowed. He left to a standing ovation.

"I had a little adrenaline going and I knew I had to be on top of my game," he said. "I knew that Pedro usually shuts people down, so I had to pitch my best. And I did."

"The other guy pitched very well," Martinez said. "To stop the kind of offense we have, that's something."

Orioles today

Opponent:Boston Red Sox

Site:Camden Yards

Time:1:35 p.m.

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters:Red Sox's Tim Wakefield (0-0, 9.00) vs. Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez (0-0, 3.00)

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