O's ace in hole Johnson deals out White Sox

Facing aces as O's No. 5, starter wins, 7-1, is 3-0, allowing 1 hit in 6 innings

Conine, Gibbons homer off Colon

Waved-off home run foils Chicago rally

Johnson leaves with bloody finger

April 24, 2003|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

Jason Johnson conquered Pedro Martinez twice to start the season, and just when the Orioles thought they had used up their miracles, Johnson went out last night with the worst stuff he's had all year and still toppled another team's ace.

This time it was hard-throwing Chicago White Sox right-hander Bartolo Colon.

Johnson caught a huge break in the fifth inning, when the umpires waved off an apparent game-tying home run. Beyond that, he allowed only one hit before a cut on his finger forced him from the game in the seventh.

With three members of their Opening Day lineup out with injuries, the Orioles still did enough damage against Colon to earn a 7-1 victory before 19,908 at Camden Yards.

Earlier in the day, the Orioles learned that Marty Cordova needed surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow and would be out six to eight weeks.

Today, they may have to place David Segui on the disabled list, if his strained right hamstring hasn't improved.

And leadoff man Jerry Hairston also missed last night's game with a sprained left ankle. So the rest of the Orioles knew they had better be good, and on this night they certainly were.

Jeff Conine clubbed a 96-mph Colon fastball for a three-run homer in the first inning, Jay Gibbons added his second homer in two nights and B.J. Surhoff had three hits, as the Orioles evened their record again at 10-10.

"Niner [Conine] went out and got a high hard one, and that was a big boost for us," said Orioles bench coach Sam Perlozzo, who is 3-1 as interim manager with Mike Hargrove tending to his ailing mother in Texas. "This was a real test for us, I thought. We're a little short-handed, and B.J. came through like the veteran he is. Everyone played well."

Suddenly, moving Johnson down to the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation looks like a stroke of genius. After going 16-36 the past three seasons, he's not only winning, he's getting unprecedented run support.

The Orioles have scored 29 runs in his past three starts.

"I don't want to say anything to jinx it," Johnson said.

Of course, Johnson has also shown he can win a pitcher's duel. In his first start, he held the Boston Red Sox to one hit over 6 1/3 innings and received a no-decision against Martinez, as the Orioles won, 2-1.

Last night, Chicago's only hit off Johnson came when Paul Konerko led off the fifth inning with a single to left. Johnson struck out Carlos Lee for the first out, and then Joe Crede hit what looked to be a two-run homer.

Crede pulled the pitch down the left-field line, and replays later showed the ball moving on the fair side of the foul pole. But third base umpire Eric Cooper waved it foul.

"God forbid, we could use a break here or there," Perlozzo said, trying to hold back his smile. "I really can't tell [if it was fair]. The guy who made the call felt pretty confident he was right, so I was with him."

White Sox manager Jerry Manuel went out to argue, and the four umpires convened for a moment, but the play stood. Johnson retired Crede and Sandy Alomar to end the inning.

"From what the guys who saw the replay are talking about, there's no question it was a fair ball," Manuel said. "It was a big turning point in the ballgame."

Johnson breezed through the sixth inning but walked Magglio Ordonez to start the seventh and then threw two straight balls to Konerko. Pitching coach Mark Wiley went to the mound, saw blood on Johnson's right middle finger and removed him from the game.

The crowd gave Johnson a warm ovation, and he tipped his cap before stepping into the dugout.

Johnson said the injury won't force him to miss his next start, which is scheduled for Tuesday in Detroit. At 3-0 with a 2.55 ERA, he's off to the best start of his career. He has as many wins right now as he did at last year's All-Star break. The last time he won three games in the same month was August 1999.

"Today, I probably felt worse than I have all year," Johnson said. "I had nothing. As soon as I started warming up in the bullpen, I knew it was going to be one of those days. A couple years ago, I might have panicked."

Considering the Orioles went three times through the starting rotation without a win from one of their top three starters - Rodrigo Lopez, Omar Daal and Rick Helling - Johnson picked a good time for a breakout month.

Last year, Johnson allowed three runs or fewer in 15 of his 22 starts and finished with five wins, but this year, the offense keeps rewarding him.

They scored five runs on seven hits in six innings against Colon (2-1).

"It's gotta be great for [Johnson's] confidence," Gibbons said. "Tonight, he didn't look real comfortable, and he only gave up one hit. That's pretty impressive."

Orioles tonight

Opponent:Chicago White Sox

Site:Camden Yards

Time:7:05

TV/Radio:Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters:White Sox's Josh Stewart (1-1, 3.71)vs. Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez (0-3, 7.66)

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