- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000


BALTIMORE The Baltimore Orioles had won five of seven games going into their series finale against Toronto, but even that hot streak couldn't help Jason Johnson.

The Orioles' embattled starter fell to 0-7 on the season after he surrendered six earned runs in five innings of the Blue Jays' 6-4 victory before 39,617 at Camden Yards. The big blow came in the third inning, when Tony Batista's grand slam put the Orioles in a 5-1 hole.

"I have to stay away from the big inning," Johnson said. "If I would have gotten that changeup [to Batista] down in the zone where it should have been, we would have won the game.

"I have to turn it around. It's not going to last like this."

Said manager Mike Hargrove: "Jason's 0-7 now; that is disappointing. But it's not due to lack of effort."

Jose Mercedes, who made four starts in April, came on to toss four shutout innings in relief of Johnson. Hargrove declined to say whether Johnson would retain his starting spot or whether Mercedes could take it. Johnson, who allowed at least five runs for the sixth consecutive start, last appeared in relief June 14 against Texas.

The work of Mercedes, a non-roster invitee to spring training, allowed the Orioles to rally from a five-run deficit. He has surrendered one run in his last six relief appearances a total of 11 2/3 innings.

Johnson's control plagued him most. In the first two innings, he walked three despite getting ahead in the count, and pitching coach Sammy Ellis made trips to the mound in each frame. Johnson walked five batters total, and three of them scored.

"He wasn't locating his pitches where he wanted to, his fastball in particular," catcher Charles Johnson said. "I honestly believe his record doesn't reflect the way he knows he can pitch."

With one out and one on in the third, Jason Johnson went to full counts on Raul Mondesi and Carlos Delgado before walking them. Then Batista, who starts his batting stance standing sideways in the batter's box before diving into the pitch, cranked Johnson's first pitch into the left-field seats for a grand slam and a four-run lead.

Delgado, who went 3-for-3 with a double, hit his league-leading 28th home run in the fifth before the Orioles rallied.

The Orioles had their chance in the sixth when a walk and a Charles Johnson single put runners at the corners with no outs. However, Will Clark, who had hit the ball hard in his first two at-bats, bounced into a double play.

Blue Jays left hander David Wells was hardly masterful in winning his major league-leading 14th game. The Orioles hit several balls hard and had nine hits in six innings, but six of the nine came with two outs.

Orioles rookie right fielder Luis Matos had the first two hits of his career, both off Wells. After reaching on an infield single in the second, he ripped a double off the top of the scoreboard in right in the fourth. Clark, who had been on first, tried to score and was thrown out by right fielder Raul Mondesi.

"I was patient at the plate to get that base hit," Matos said. "The first one is the hardest."

Charles Johnson went 3-for-4 with two runs and hit his career high-tying 19th home run in the eighth, which cut the lead to 6-4.

The Orioles can take solace in the fact they still took three of four from the first-place Blue Jays, who earlier this season had beaten them 13 straight times dating back to last season. The Orioles missed a chance to close within 6 1/2 games of Toronto, but the Orioles have some momentum heading into their three-game series today at Yankee Stadium.

"It says a lot about our character," Charles Johnson said about the Orioles' second straight series win against a division opponent. "We have to keep plugging away."

Notes Matos started his big-league career 0-for-15. He was removed for pinch-hitter Harold Baines to lead off the ninth inning. Said Hargrove: "He's a young kid that you have to get a chance to play." … After an 0-for-4 afternoon yesterday, Brady Anderson is 8-for-58 in his last 16 games… . Hargrove said he is holding infielder Ryan Minor out because the third baseman's ribs are still sore. Hargrove added that outfielder Rich Amaral could miss anywhere from 2-5 days with a calf strain. "They're sort of tricky injuries," Hargrove said. "You don't want to rush those types."

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