- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2000

TORONTO The Baltimore Orioles can't say they didn't have their chances against the Toronto Blue Jays last night.
In a game in which one more clutch at-bat would have made the difference, the Orioles had at least one baserunner in every inning but stranded 13, including seven in scoring position, as they fell to the Blue Jays 6-5 before 15,103 at SkyDome.
The Orioles' fifth loss in their last six games dropped them to 16-15, and with struggling ace Mike Mussina facing Blue Jays lefty David Wells tonight, the odds of slipping to .500 for the first time since the second game of the season appear good. The Blue Jays evened their record at 17-17.
"You don't ever want to leave 13 men on base. That's not good," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "There's no way to dress that up."
Orioles starter Jason Johnson had his second consecutive bad start and is suddenly a question mark after two strong outings since being recalled from Class AAA Rochester. Johnson lasted just four innings and gave up six runs, all via a pair of home runs.
Johnson often took an abundance of time between throws, causing him to lose his rhythm and fall behind hitters.
"He needs to pick up his pace," Hargrove said. "Jason was behind hitters too much tonight. He was his own worst enemy."
Johnson fell behind Tony Batista 2-0, and he jacked the next pitch into the bullpen behind left field to put the Blue Jays up 2-0 in the second inning. It was the 19th straight home game in which the Blue Jays have homered.
The Orioles struck back in the top of the fourth with a two-run double from Charles Johnson to tie the game.
But Jason Johnson couldn't keep the Blue Jays bats in check, and in the bottom of the fourth he loaded the bases with none out. He tried to beat Darrin Fletcher with a 2-1 fastball but watched it sail over the fence in right field. The second grand slam yielded by the Orioles in as many games put Toronto up 6-2.
After the game, Jason Johnson initiated a meeting with Hargrove in the manager's office, then defiantly predicted improvement.
"For some reason I'm falling behind guys 2-0, 3-0 and that's not gonna get the job done," he said. "But that's not me. The next time out, I'm gonna be more aggressive. I'm gonna work quick… . I'm gonna [throw] first-pitch fastballs, and if they hit it, fine, show me what you got."
The Orioles got one back in the sixth on a single by Jeff Conine that scored Cal Ripken. They loaded the bases with two outs and were briefly teased when Delino DeShields hit a fly ball to deep left, only to see Marty Cordova catch it at the fence to end the threat.
Even with Kelvim Escobar's propensity to let men on base, Blue Jays manager Jim Fregosi let him go out for the seventh inning because his bullpen is worse than the Orioles' tattered relief corps, entering the game with a 6.88 ERA and four blown saves.
The Orioles were able to bend Escobar in the seventh, but they couldn't get the key blow to break him. B.J. Surhoff and Harold Baines sandwiched singles around an Albert Belle strikeout, but Escobar fanned Ripken and Conine to justify Fregosi's faith.
"We got a lot of hits, but we couldn't always get timely hitting," Baines said.
Despite having thrown 109 pitches, Escobar was sent out to start the eighth, and Charles Johnson doubled and scored on a single that was Mike Bordick's team-leading 31st RBI of the season.
Reluctantly, Fregosi replaced Escobar with Pedro Borbon, who fanned Brady Anderson the only Oriole not to get a base hit but gave up an infield hit to DeShields. One out later, Belle again delivered in the clutch with an RBI single off John Frascatore to make it 6-5. But with the tying run at third, Frascatore got Baines to ground out.
Any hopes the Orioles had of a comeback were maintained by Jose Mercedes, who made his first relief appearance after losing his spot in the rotation when Scott Erickson returned last week. Pitching for the first time in 11 days, Mercedes took advantage of three double plays to shut the Blue Jays out for 3 and 1/3 innings.
"He did well," Hargrove said. "He got some key double-play balls when he needed them… . He gave us a chance to win."
The final double play was induced by Buddy Groom, who replaced Mercedes with runners at second and third but got Jose Cruz to line to Ripken, who caught pinch runner Dewayne Wise cheating off third and tagged him out.
In the ninth, Billy Koch gave up a one-out walk to Conine but got Johnson to ground out and struck out Bordick to add to the Orioles' recent list of frustrations.

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