Cal Ripken has been doing it for nearly two decades. For Jason Johnson, it's kind of a new thing. Today, Ripken -- the Baltimore Orioles' man of steel, hit two home runs and Johnson, their pitching ace-in-waiting, pitched a four-hitter through seven innings in helping the Orioles to their fifth straight victory, 8-4 over the Anaheim Angels.
In addition to his two homers, Ripken drove in three runs to lead an offensive attack that produced 17 hits and chased Angels starter Ken Hill (3-9) after five innings. Ripken has 14 homers this season, which is as many as he hit all of last season. He has 398 for his career.
Johnson (2-4) tossed seven sparkling innings, including the first three without giving up a hit. He issued five walks but struck out five batters, broke several bats with hard, inside fastballs and lowered his earned run average to 5.34.
After the second homer, Ripken obliged the crowd of 48,544 -- the largest regular season crowd in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- with a curtain call.
"As the day went on, I felt better and better," said Ripken, who is still bothered slightly by the bruised right wrist that caused him to miss five games last week. "I feel as comfortable now as I have in a long time."
The Orioles have won 10 of their last 12, and they have done it with pitching. In their past 11 games, Orioles starters are 9-2 with a 2.08 ERA and have pitched at least seven innings eight times. The team ERA, which stood at a ghastly 5.87 June 6, is down to 4.97.
It was the ninth straight loss for the Angels.
Johnson, who is a diabetic, also is one of the Orioles' most promising young pitchers, one of their "untouchables" as the July trading season reaches its peak, and a key member of their projected Year 2000 rotation. Today, he again showed why.
Approximately every two innings this afternoon, just as he does during every start, Johnson, 25, walked into the tunnel that connects the Orioles' dugout to their clubhouse, took out a small kit that he keeps by the team's bats, pricked his finger with a surgical knife, placed a drop of blood on a specimen slab and measured his blood-sugar level.
Johnson has been checking his blood-sugar level himself for so long -- in addition to administering insulin shots three times a day -- that he does not think of his diabetes as a disability. But his stamina has been a concern throughout his career. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who dealt Johnson to the Orioles this spring, projected him as a reliever because they were unsure of his ability to pitch deep into games as a starter.
Today marked only the third time in his two-year major league career Johnson has pitched past the sixth inning -- but all three have come in his past five starts, in which time he has averaged a healthy 113 pitches. He has given up three runs or fewer in all five of those starts.
Finding out he was included on the Orioles' "untouchables" list gave Johnson "more confidence on the mound," he said.
"I can be more relaxed," he said. "If I have a so-so outing, I know that five days later I can redeem myself. . . . I have more confidence now than I've ever had, and that's the key to pitching."
Said Manager Ray Miller: "What [Johnson] is doing is the process of learning how to pitch right -- when to throw the change-up, when to throw the breaking ball, when to take something off, when to add something. What he's trying to do will make him an outstanding pitcher when he gets it all worked out."
Sloppy defense in the sixth broke up Johnson's shutout. Right fielder Albert Belle reacted slowly to Randy Velarde's drive down the line, allowing Velarde to motor around to third, and an errant relay throw from second baseman Delino DeShields allowed Velarde to score.
In Johnson's last three losses, the Orioles had scored a total of six runs for him, which is why he had gone a month without a win. But today, the Orioles gave him plenty of support, scoring single runs in the first, third, fourth and fifth, and two each in the sixth and seventh.
Every player in the Orioles' starting lineup had at least one hit, and the bottom of the order -- Will Clark, Ripken, DeShields and Charles Johnson -- went 9 for 17 with three homers (Clark had the third, a solo blast in the fourth) and five runs scored.
Only a shaky ninth inning by left-hander Arthur Rhodes, who yielded a two-run homer to Angels backup catcher Charlie O'Brien and failed to finish the inning, tarnished an otherwise positive day for the Orioles.
Orioles Notes: Belle told Orioles television announcer Michael Reghi Friday he has not agreed to waive the no-trade clause in his contract, contrary to published reports. Although Belle would not go on the air with him, Reghi reported Belle's comments during Friday night's telecast.
However, a team source confirmed at one point in June, Belle did tell the Orioles he would be willing to waive the no-trade clause, which gives him the power to veto any trade during the first three years of his five-year, $65 million contract. . . .
The Orioles will wear "futuristic" black and silver uniforms Sunday as part of a "Turn Ahead the Clock" promotion. "They're not near as bad as I expected," Miller said of the uniforms. "I figured we'd have space helmets and goggles or something." . . .
Ripken's homers were numbers 397 and 398 of his career, passing Joe Carter and tying him with Dale Murphy for 30th place all-time. . . . Miller said he will rest shortstop Mike Bordick Sunday.