- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2001


BALTIMORE If yesterday's events at Camden Yards had taken place a year ago or even two months ago, it surely would have had members of the Baltimore Orioles organization bouncing off the walls of the B&O; warehouse with excitement.

But performances like Jason Johnson's in the Orioles' 3-2 win over the Montreal Expos have become the norm and not just for Johnson. A host of young pitchers have given this much-maligned franchise legitimate reason to believe it is headed toward success.

A near-complete game victory by a young hurler no longer qualifies as earth-shattering news. It's business as usual.

And it's helped keep Baltimore within shouting distance of the .500 mark for more than two months.

"Oh, no doubt in my mind," catcher Brook Fordyce said. "These guys have come up and established themselves early. They're not afraid to throw any pitch to anybody. They've established that and have had success, and that can only be a confidence booster for them."

From the first day of spring training, the Orioles' fortunes in 2001 have hinged on the progression of their young pitching staff. Sixty-one games into the season, Johnson, Sidney Ponson, Willis Roberts and Josh Towers all under the age of 28 boast a combined 17-13 record and 3.80 ERA, more than adequate numbers in today's offense-driven game.

The performances of those four right-handers, perhaps more than anything else, has put Baltimore in the position it finds itself today: a 29-32 record, third place in the American League East.

"As a whole, we've pitched well all year long," manager Mike Hargrove said. "For us to continue to improve the situation and build on what we have, we need to continue to do that."

The most encouraging thing to come out of yesterday's win, played before 36,868 fans on a warm afternoon, might well have been Johnson's ability to shut down an opponent even when he did not have his best stuff.

Johnson, at 27 the elder statesman of the Orioles' young arms, battled through a nasty blister on his right middle finger and sporadic command of his pitches. Despite that, he managed to come within one strike of his first complete game, ending the day having given up one earned run and six hits in 8* innings.

"It makes you feel pretty good that I can pitch well and not have my best stuff," said Johnson, now 6-3 with a 3.09 ERA. "You're not always going to have it, and I learned today that sometimes you just have to do what you can to keep the team in the game."

He allowed only two hard-hit singles to the Expos: Milton Bradley's base hit to right in the fifth and Michael Barrett's run-scoring single up the middle with two outs in the ninth that forced Hargrove to pull Johnson from the game.

Otherwise, Montreal accounted for all of its offense with two infield singles, a bloop double that shortstop Melvin Mora and center fielder Brady Anderson watched fall between them and two ninth-inning grounders that Jerry Hairston and David Segui were unable to handle.

Compounding matters for Johnson was the blister on the tip of his middle finger that burst in the first inning and began to divert his attention. With runners on the corners in the first, he fired a pickoff attempt in the dirt past Segui at first base that allowed Mark Smith to score the game's initial run.

"He got to thinking about it, and that took away from what he was doing," Hargrove said. "He was thinking about it on the throw to first base that he threw away. But he adjusted."

Thanks to some nifty handiwork. While the Orioles batted in the bottom of the first, Johnson glued the blister shut.

"I'll tell you what, it worked," he said. "In the first inning, the ball was everywhere. I couldn't control anything. I put some Super Glue on there, and the rest of the game it was solid. Whatever works, I guess."

Johnson took the mound in the ninth with a shot at his first complete game in the major leagues. His teammates provided all the offense he needed Fordyce, Hairston and Anderson had back-to-back-to-back singles in the second to score two runs. Cal Ripken drove in Segui with a base hit to right in the sixth.

However, an error by Hairston and a bad hop grounder to Segui left runners on first and second with two out and the go-ahead run at the plate in Barrett. Barrett worked the count full and, with the crowd on its feet cheering for the last out to be recorded, smoked a grounder up the middle to make it 3-2. Hargrove brought in left-hander Buddy Groom to face pinch-hitter Mike Mordecai, who drilled a 3-2 pitch right at Anderson to end the game.

Johnson's teammates clearly wanted to help him notch a complete game but …

"At that point, you know what? Individual goals go out the window. We gotta get the win," Fordyce said. "I'll tap him on the butt after the game and say, 'Good game and sorry you couldn't do it.' But the fact of the matter is we got the W. And you know what? That can console pretty much anybody on our team."

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