Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson was heading out of his postgame news conference Tuesday when he decided to turn the tables on a small group of reporters. It was his turn to ask a question.
What he wanted to know had nothing to do with the 3 1/2 hours of baseball he had just seen, or his MLB-best team. He wanted to know whether the Baltimore Orioles won.
He wanted to know if, inconceivable as it seems to most, the Orioles were tied for first place in the American League East in the first week of September. They were, he was informed. Johnson smiled.
Even now, 40 years since he last wore their uniform as a player and 15 years after his messy divorce with owner Peter Angelos ended his managerial stint in Baltimore, Johnson wants to know that the Orioles are doing well.
"Oh, I just think it's great," he said Wednesday. "I grew up in this area. I grew up an Oriole fan. To see them playing like I always think the Orioles should play, it’s great."
Johnson talks about his days as an Oriole player with genuine affinity. He likes to remind folks that he picked the Orioles when other teams were recruiting him to join their organizations as a teenager.
He lavishes praise on the talented rosters Baltimore put together while he was there from 1965-72, and all the good times they shared playing in four World Series. And he jokes about his relationship with Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver, who took to calling Johnson "Dumb-dumb" for his musings on advanced statistics before they went mainstream.
Asked Wednesday if Orioles manager Buck Showalter reminded him at all of Weaver, Johnson was quick-witted. "Maybe when he argues," he said. "But he’s not down the runway smoking."
But mostly, when the Orioles do come up, Johnson reminisces about what it meant to be an Oriole when the "Oriole Way" was regarded as a moniker for playing the game the right way, and not the years of defeat and disillusionment that it came to embody during 14 straight losing seasons.
Now, with the Orioles entering Wednesday night’s game against Toronto tied with the New York Yankees for first place in the AL East and the Nationals leading their division by 7? games, Johnson has reveled in his old team's re-emergence.
"Any time I get a chance [I watch them]," Johnson said, noting particularly how much he enjoys seeing Orioles top prospect Manny Machado man third base despite coming up as a shortstop, much the way Johnson got his introduction to the majors.
"It's fun watching them. I'll be really interested starting [Thursday] to see them go head to head with the Yankees," Johnson said. "I'd like to watch that game."
Johnson then offered a wry smile. His viewing of the game, of course, impossible because of the Nationals’ 7:05 p.m. series finale against the Chicago Cubs.
"I may have to Tivo it," he quipped.
NOTES: Reliever Sean Burnett is not expected to test his sore left elbow by throwing off a mound until the weekend. Burnett, who has been dealing with the elbow issue since at least the All-Star break, has been taking anti-inflammatory medication. The Nationals put him on a new one and prescribed extended rest when Burnett decided it wasn’t fair to his teammates for him to pitch when his effectiveness was declining. There are no plans for Burnett to have an MRI.
• Johnson said it’s “conceivable” that right-hander Chien-Ming Wang could get a start toward the end of the season, but the sinkerballer, who has spent the majority of the season on the disabled list, will have to throw a bullpen session in front of Johnson first.
• Outfielder Jayson Werth was out of the lineup on a planned day off Wednesday. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is expected to miss Sunday’s game against Miami for the same reason, Johnson said.
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