- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2001


BALTIMORE Of all the worst-case scenarios floating through Mike Hargrove's mind last night, a bad start by Jason Johnson couldn't have been high on the Baltimore Orioles manager's list.

After all, this was the Jason Johnson who hadn't lost a game at Camden Yards all season. The one who held the American League's best home ERA. The one who had become Hargrove's most reliable starting pitcher.

That is, until last night.

Johnson served up three homers before recording four outs and was knocked out in the fifth inning while the Orioles' hitters were stymied by Chicago White Sox right-hander Kip Wells in a 6-0 loss before 34,735 at Camden Yards.

Quietly putting together an impressive first half to the 2001 season, Wells (4-3) offered his best start yet, tossing eight innings of three-hit ball and retiring 16 batters in a row. In the process, he lowered his ERA from 2.80 to 2.38.

"Early in the game, I felt really good and was challenging guys with pitches," Wells said. "Later on when I lost a little zip on my pitches, I was able to locate stuff and get guys out without trying to blow by anybody."

Johnson had been outstanding at home this year better than anyone else in the AL in fact, with a 5-0 record and 1.61 ERA. Two innings into last night's game, though, he had already endured his worst start at Camden Yards.

Carlos Lee clubbed a high fastball over the right-center field fence for a 2-0 lead in the top of the first.

Chicago wasted no time going right back at Johnson in the second as Paul Konerko homered to left on his first pitch, a high fastball. Four pitches later, Jeff Liefer crushed another high fastball down the right-field line off Eutaw Street, then off a window in the B&O; Warehouse on one bounce. The three White Sox homers in two innings represented one more than Johnson (6-4) had given up in seven previous home outings.

"From the get-go, everything was up in the zone. I haven't been like that all year," Johnson said. "That was it, the one and only thing I felt like I was doing wrong."

A walk to Chris Singleton, a stolen base and a run-scoring single by Lee in the fifth put Chicago up 5-0. When Jose Canseco making his White Sox debut doubled to deep right-center, Hargrove had seen enough. Johnson departed having failed to get out of the fifth inning for the second straight start, though his last outing Saturday in Philadelphia was interrupted by three rain delays.

Johnson's four earned runs were more than he had given up in any home start this year and five fewer than had been scored off him in all seven Camden Yards outings.

"When he gave up the fifth run and they had runners in scoring position, I just felt like we'd gone as far as we could," Hargrove said. "It's the first time Jason hasn't been on his game in a long time."

Johnson's best still might not have been enough against Wells, who is far less recognizable than teammate David Wells but has been far more productive.

Kip Wells allowed only a single to Melvin Mora in the second, a double to Brook Fordyce in the third and a single up the middle to Cal Ripken in the eighth that snapped his streak of 16 batters retired. He did not walk a batter, struck out six and threw 76 of his 109 pitches for strikes before giving way to reliever Gary Glover in the ninth.

This against an Orioles lineup that has slowly but surely found its stroke. Entering last night's game, Baltimore had reached double digits in hits in each of its last six games, batting a collective .307 with 16 home runs. But no one could solve Wells not even rookie Jay Gibbons, who failed to hit a home run for the first time in five games.

"It's hard to go out there and battle when you know the other guy's pitching just as well," Johnson said. "Even if I gave up two runs, I still would have lost."

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