- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 14, 2000


BALTIMORE Throughout his career Charles Johnson has been known for his strong arm. This season he's also made a name for himself with his bat. Last night the Baltimore Orioles catcher used both his offense and his defense to help his team win.

Johnson hit a game-winning two-run homer and made a key throw at third base to throw out the tying run in the seventh inning as the Orioles defeated the Texas Rangers 3-2 before 40,175.

The Orioles (27-34) won their third straight game, while the Rangers (30-32) lost for the sixth consecutive time.

It was as complete a win as the Orioles have seen all season. Scott Erickson overcame control problems to pick up his third win since returning from elbow surgery that cost him the first month of the season, while the club's defense and bullpen two areas that have hurt the club this year made solid contributions.

"Everybody contributed tonight," said Mike Trombley, who combined with Buddy Groom and Mike Timlin to pitch two scoreless innings of relief. "Scotty battled, defense came through with some double plays, C.J. hit a key homer and then the guys in the bullpen did their job. This is how it's supposed to be."

Their efforts would have been squandered had it not been for Johnson, whose fifth-inning blast scored Will Clark, who had singled two batters earlier, to put the Orioles ahead 3-2.

Johnson has never hit more than 19 homers in a season or hit higher than .251. But after going 1-for-3 last night he's hitting .295 with 12 home runs. Johnson credits a more compact swing and staying patient for his improved plate prowess.

"It sounds simple but it's not," he said. "A lot of guys want to try and do too much with their swing. When you try and do too much you end up hurting the team. I'm just going up there and trying to be relaxed and let the hits come."

An inning before Johnson's homer, B.J. Surhoff's solo blast narrowed the Rangers' lead to 2-1.

The Orioles were behind early because something about the Rangers causes Erickson to have control problems. Against the rest of the American league and one game against the Mets this year, Erickson has only walked 12 batters in 35 innings.

But in a loss last month in Texas, Erickson walked six in as many innings and last night free passes hurt him again. In the third inning, he walked the bases loaded with one out then gave up RBI to ex-Oriole David Segui and Dave Martinez to put the Rangers up 2-0.

"Just a coincidence, I pitched bad tonight," Erickson said of his walks against the Rangers.

Erickson only gave up five hits in seven innings but he walked eight to keep himself constantly in trouble. The eight walks matches Erickson's career-high; the last time he walked that many was as a rookie with Minnesota in 1990.

Despite throwing more balls (59) than strikes (55), Erickson was still able to use his reliable slider to get him groundouts when he needed them. The game's best pitcher at inducing groundballs got out of a trio of jams with three double-play balls hit to shortstop Mike Bordick.

Erickson got out of his final jam in the seventh after Rodriguez hit a two out-single. With Rafael Palmeiro at the plate, Rodriguez easily stole second after Erickson's pitch was low and outside and bounced off Johnson's glove.

But with Johnson scrambling for the errant pitch, Rodriguez got greedy and tried to take third but was easily gunned out by a strong throw from Johnson.

"C.J. is still one of the best defensive catchers in the game," said Orioles manager Mike Hargrove. "That was the play of the game."

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