Orioles Lose One to the Big Unit
Johnson Yields 3 Hits in 7 Innings: Diamondbacks 8, Orioles 1
By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 9, 2004; Page D01
BALTIMORE, June 8 -- Neither of the starting pitchers Tuesday night at Oriole Park at Camden Yards did anything to embarrass the Baltimore Orioles, which is about the best thing that can be said for them.
Arizona Diamondbacks legend Randy Johnson, in his first Baltimore appearance in nearly seven years, permitted a few base runners, and even a lone earned run, sparing the Orioles the ignominy that was visited upon the Atlanta Braves three weeks ago when he went 27-up, 27-down on them.
And Sidney Ponson, the Orioles' enfant terrible and the subject of some organization-wide soul-searching in recent days, was both a gentleman and a valiant competitor, pitching into the eighth inning and losing on a night when he would have had to have been brilliant to win.
No, the embarrassment for the Orioles in an 8-1 loss to the Diamondbacks in front of 28,927 did not come until later, when their ruinous bullpen entered into the proceedings.
Although the game included such oddities as a meeting of two members of baseball's only three-generation, five-member family (the Hairston brothers, Arizona's Scott and Baltimore's Jerry), and a reliever (Baltimore's Eddy Rodriguez) who inherited a bases-loaded situation in the eighth and uncorked wild pitches on his first two offerings, it failed to deliver on its ultimate promise.
Johnson, the accomplished lefty who is enjoying a career renaissance at age 40, shut down the Orioles on three hits and a walk over seven effective if unspectacular innings, striking out four and giving up a run in the fourth on Miguel Tejada's RBI forceout.
"It wasn't a very exciting game," said Johnson (8-4), who was making his first Camden Yards appearance since losing Game 4 of the 1997 Division Series, "except from the standpoint that our offense carried us."
Johnson's first few fastballs were in the 91-92 mph range and he never exceeded 95, perhaps disappointing fans who saw him cap his perfect game at Atlanta with an unhittable 98-mph fastball. However, he threw his slider frequently for strikes -- a circumstance that spelled doom for the Orioles.
"His fastball gets on you [quickly]. But it's not so much his fastball, as his command of his slider," said Jerry Hairston. "We had a tough time with him today."
Manager Lee Mazzilli's lineup was 100 percent right-handed, a strategic nod to Johnson's phenomenal numbers against lefties (.123 batting average), and an historical nod to Davey Johnson's lineups in the 1997 playoff series -- when a B team featuring Jeff Reboulet, Jerome Walton and Geronimo Berroa beat a mullet-styled Johnson twice in the span of a week to send the Orioles to the AL Championship Series.
There is no way to know whether Rafael Palmeiro (1 for 21 vs. Johnson) or B.J. Surhoff (2 for 15) would have had better success against Johnson, but reserves Luis Lopez, Jose Leon and Tim Raines Jr. went a combined 0 for 10.
In addition, Palmeiro's absence from first base hurt the Orioles defensively, as Lopez, playing first base for the third time in a 10-year big league career, failed to stop Melvin Mora's short-hop throw from third base on a potential double play in the fifth, sending the ball into foul territory in right field and allowing the Diamondbacks' fourth run to score.
By the eighth, when relievers Buddy Groom and Rodriguez each allowed a pair of inherited runners to score in groan-inducing fashion, the tidy game had turned into a near blowout.
Ponson (3-7) pitched effectively for most of his seven-plus innings, but still failed to prevent his seventh loss in his last nine starts. Yet, after giving up 15 runs and 22 hits in a pair of losses to the New York Yankees in his two most recent starts, this qualifies as progress.
Ponson has been the object of much derision of late, both inside and outside the organization, with fans and team executives alike growing weary of his inconsistency, his off-the-field habits and his weight issues. On Friday, members of the Orioles' front office met with the team's medical and strength-and-conditioning staffs to address concerns about Ponson.
After the game, Ponson sent word through a team spokesman that he would not field questions from the media. However, catcher Javy Lopez said: "He tried as best he could to keep [the score] as close as he could. They got hits on some pretty good pitches from him."
Ponson emerged from the dugout for the top of the first inning seemingly intent on sending a message to his critics. His first few fastballs clocked in at 96 mph -- a level he has rarely reached this season -- while a wicked slider he used to strike out Danny Bautista registered 89 mph.
But the Diamondbacks scored a pair of runs in third, on back-to-back doubles by Alex Cintron and Scott Hairston, and a grounder through the middle by Bautista. A third run scored in the third inning, when Carlos Baerga, behind 0-2 in the count, smacked a flat sinker into left for an RBI single.
"That," Lopez said, "was the only pitch in the game he didn't put where he wanted."
Orioles Note: The Hairstons had never faced each other in organized competition before Tuesday night, and their father, former Chicago White Sox outfielder Jerry Hairston Sr., was on hand. The Hairston's uncle, Johnny, played in the big leagues in 1969, and their grandfather, Sam, played in 1951.
"Ever since Scott got drafted by the Diamondbacks," said Jerry Sr., "I've been waiting for this day to happen."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company