Big Unit, big homers cut down O's, Chen

Johnson's strong 8, Giambi HRs drive Yanks past winless starter

Yankees 7 Orioles 1

April 24, 2006|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

NEW YORK -- It often didn't seem fair. As his counterpart, New York Yankees ace left-hander Randy Johnson, severed a slew of bats, reducing almost all of the Orioles hitters not named Miguel Tejada to a series of half-hearted swings and meekly struck ground balls, Bruce Chen had a fastball that couldn't overpower and a changeup that couldn't confuse.

When Chen doesn't have command of his soft-tossing repertoire, as he hasn't for much of the season, the results can be disastrous.

Yesterday was the latest case in point as the left-hander was battered for two long Jason Giambi home runs, three of the designated hitter's five RBIs, and eight other hits through four innings of the Orioles' 7-1 loss to New York in the series finale before 47,996 at Yankee Stadium.

The victory, backed by eight strong innings of three-hit ball by Johnson, secured the series win for the Yankees and sends the Orioles (11-9) to Toronto with two straight losses, a suddenly slumping offense that got all four of its hits yesterday from Tejada, and major concerns about one of their starting pitchers.

"Not very good," was Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo's take on Chen's outing. "He just seemed to miss his spots all day. We're going to hope that he can put it together pretty soon. You'd hate to see it continue like this."

Chen, probably the most dependable pitcher for the Orioles last season, has suddenly become the rotation's biggest question mark. He is 0-3 with an ERA of 7.84 that actually went down - a testament to how poorly he pitched in his previous outings - despite his surrendering five runs (three earned) and 10 hits over four innings yesterday.

Giambi's leadoff shot in the second inning to right field and his two-run blast in the third off the base of the upper deck were the seventh and eighth home runs Chen has given up in his past three outings.

"I feel like I am close," Chen said. "I definitely am not panicking. The hardest thing is not trying to change, to do anything drastic. When you get beat like this, your first instinct is to try to throw another pitch or reinvent the wheel. I just need to try to make better pitches."

In fairness to Chen, he would have needed near-perfection to give the Orioles a chance to win yesterday, with the way Johnson, 42 years old and with five Cy Young Awards on his resume, mowed through the lineup. The 6-foot-10 pitcher known as the Big Unit, erasing doubts about his left shoulder with each offering, needed only 94 pitches in eight innings to get past the Orioles before Mariano Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth.

"The good thing is we got beat by good pitching," Tejada said. "That's why we're not putting pressure on us. We're not worried."

Said third baseman Melvin Mora of Johnson: "He looked like [he did] when he was 22. He wasn't joking around. The only good pitches [to hit] that he threw were to Tejada."

A nattily attired Tejada arrived in the Orioles' clubhouse about an hour before the original 1:05 start time, eventually delayed 41 minutes because of rain. Perlozzo said he had no issue with the late arrival, and it clearly didn't affect the star shortstop.

Tejada slammed Johnson's 1-0 slider off the foul pole in left field in the second inning, his fourth homer of the season, giving the Orioles a 1-0 lead. He also singled off Johnson in the fourth and the seventh, and then hit his third single off Rivera in the ninth.

"I think today was my lucky day," Tejada said. "[Johnson] just got everybody out. He didn't play around with nobody. I was just lucky to get hits."

In the series, Tejada was 8-for-12 with three RBIs and is now hitting .425 for the season. He drove in the Orioles' only runs in the past two games.

"It's a little tough to score with only one of your guys getting hits," Perlozzo said. "Obviously, Randy did a pretty good job. I didn't think he had his best stuff, but he was obviously good enough."

The same cannot be said of Chen, who was constantly on the defensive during the game. He felt he made a good pitch on the low fastball Giambi deposited over the right-field wall in the second. Chen said he made a mistake on the fastball Giambi drilled off the upper deck in the third after Alex Rodriguez reached on a two-out error by Mora.

Chen was lifted with no outs in the fifth after loading the bases on a single by Johnny Damon, a double by Derek Jeter and a walk to Gary Sheffield. John Halama relieved him, allowing only a sacrifice fly by Rodriguez that made the score 5-1. Giambi added a two-run double off Jim Brower in the seventh.

"I don't know what they are going to do," Chen said when asked after the game if he was confident that he'd remain in the rotation. "The most important start is my next start. I can't think about what's going to happen two months from now. I feel like I am close and I made some strides this start."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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