Orioles 7, Tigers 5
As if the Baltimore Orioles needed another reminder of how frighteningly thin their pitching staff has become in recent days, out on the mound at Comerica Park on Friday night, wearing a Detroit Tigers uniform, was a veteran pitcher the Orioles could have kept with one stroke of the pen this winter.
Back in December, the Orioles decided they could do without another night of seeing Jason Johnson walk a bunch of guys, give up a couple of homers and reach 100 pitches in the fifth inning. But the way things were going for them lately, they did not mind at all the sight of Johnson doing the exact same act against them on this night.
And so the Orioles pounded their former teammate in a 7-5 win in front of 23,298, snapping their season-long seven-game losing streak and regaining some of the dignity they had lost in Baltimore over the previous three nights.
"It broke the ice a little bit," Orioles Manager Lee Mazzilli said.
After absorbing a historically savage beating at the hands of the New York Yankees over the previous 72 hours -- never before had the Orioles allowed as many as 41 runs to an opponent over a three-game series at home -- the Orioles' pitching staff found the Tigers' lineup a little more to their liking.
Lefty Eric DuBose, the kind of promising young starter who made the Orioles believe they could do without Johnson, was in trouble at every turn, but kept finding ways out of it.
Even the Orioles' bullpen, which posted a 14.54 ERA during the losing streak, for once held a lead -- although closer Jorge Julio made some hearts race by loading the bases with two outs in the ninth before retiring Carlos Pena on a rocket to first base. It was Julio's 34th pitch of the inning, and earned him his first save since May 19 and his eighth overall.
"You can go from a hero to a goat in a heartbeat, and from a goat to a hero in another heartbeat," said Orioles lefty B.J. Ryan, who pitched a scoreless eighth. "The Yankees series is just a thing in the past. It was just three games we lost that we didn't pitch good in. You take it in stride and show up the next day."
Nothing comes easy for the Orioles these days, including DuBose (4-3).
He went 3-0 and 2-0 to the first two batters he faced in the first inning, issued three straight two-out walks in the second, and threw first-pitch balls to all four batters he faced in the third. Yet somehow he escaped all three innings unscathed.
Think he could have gotten away with that against the Yankees?
No pitch Friday night was bigger than the 2-2 fastball left-hander Buddy Groom threw on the outside corner to strike out Pena for the first out of the sixth inning -- after inheriting from DuBose a no-out, bases-loaded jam. Although the Tigers would later score a run on Omar Infante's sacrifice fly, pulling them to 7-3, Groom's strikeout of Pena defused the kind of scary situation that has blown up on the Orioles many times in recent days.
Johnson was facing the Orioles (21-23) for the first time since they failed to tender a contract offer to him this winter, deciding he was not worth the $4 million or so he would have earned via arbitration.
Instead, he signed a two-year, $7 million deal with the Tigers, who anointed him their Opening Day starter.
But things have not worked out for Johnson as planned in Detroit. Though he pitched reasonably well in his last two starts, both wins, his record fell to 3-6 and his ERA soared to 6.05 following Friday night's beating, which included homers by Orioles center fielder Luis Matos and shortstop Miguel Tejada.
The last four batters Johnson faced went triple, single, walk, hit-by-pitch.
"Congratulations," Johnson said after the game. "You just saw my worst start of the year."
Orioles Notes: An MRI exam on right-hander Kurt Ainsworth's right elbow this week revealed a bone chip, according to head trainer Richie Bancells.
Ainsworth, who was sent down to Class AAA Ottawa on May 15, received a cortisone injection and will be shut down for a few days, then resume throwing.
If pain resurfaces in the elbow, Ainsworth may need arthroscopic surgery to remove the bone chip. . . .
Although the Orioles made yet another personnel change to their bullpen before this series -- calling up Class AAA right-hander Eddy Rodriguez to replace Denny Bautista -- Mazzilli said the patchwork approach will not work.
"You can't keep putting Band-Aids on things," he said. "That's not going to be an answer. We've got to find someone who can step up." . . .
Right fielder Jay Gibbons has not played since suffering back spasms on Tuesday, but Mazzilli said he could return to the lineup Saturday night. . . .
Larry Bigbie's triple in the fifth inning was only the second all season by the Orioles. The other belongs to Gibbons on April 15. . . .
Melvin Mora went 2 for 5 to raise his league-leading average to .391.