- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001


NEW YORK Jason Johnson was no Mike Mussina last night.
He was better. Much, much better.
And for at least one summer night in the Bronx, the sight of Mussina in New York Yankees pinstripes wasn't so unbearable.
In what may have been the best performance of his career (though he still won't admit it), Johnson dominated the Yankees in their home stadium, tossing 7 2/3 spectacular innings to lead the Baltimore Orioles to a 10-3 victory before 30,605.
"I would say that's about as good as I've seen Jason," manager Mike Hargrove said.
Holding a no-hitter through four innings against the three-time World Series champions, the 27-year-old Johnson finally succumbed in the fifth when Paul O'Neill sliced a solo home run into the first row of seats beyond the short 318-foot sign down the left-field line.
For a while, it looked like O'Neill's homer likely a routine fly ball in most parks would be the only thing standing between Johnson and history. The Yankees, however, put to rest any possibility of a near no-hitter with three late doubles, driving the 6-foot-6 right-hander out of the game with two outs in the bottom of the eighth.
More important to Johnson than a shot at history, though, was a dominating performance that may finally have put to rest the demons of a 1-10 season in 2000.
"I've got a lot more confidence than I had," he said. "I've got better command, I'm relaxed. I know I'm going to get the ball every five days and do the best that I can."
Johnson (5-3) allowed a total of six Yankees to reach base, only one from the second through sixth innings. Derek Jeter reached on a Jerry Hairston error, and David Justice followed with a walk in the first inning. Otherwise, O'Neill's fifth-inning home run was the only other blemish on Johnson's record until he gave up a double in the seventh and two in the eighth.
Johnson ended the night having given up two earned runs on four hits in 7 2/3innings while picking up his first road win since August.
But as he has done seemingly after each strong outing, Johnson insists this was not his absolute best.
"I say no every time, and it never changes," he said. "I always feel like I can be better, and I always feel like I have done better. I'm just really happy to go out and beat the Yankees tonight."
Mussina, the longtime Orioles ace who defected to New York last winter, bore little resemblance to the pitcher who beat his former team in back-to-back starts last month. That much was obvious as early as the second inning, when the resurgent Baltimore offense battered Mussina (5-6) for four runs and four hits.
Coupled with their first-inning run that got everything started, the Orioles put themselves in the uncommon position of holding a 5-0 lead on their division rivals, who lost their second straight against Baltimore after winning six in a row to start the season series.
Chris Richard was the early catalyst, doubling to deep left-center in both the first and second innings. He scored the game's first run in the top of the first on Jeff Conine's single to left, then followed a two-run single by Mike Bordick with a two-run double of his own in the second.
The ensuing chant raining down from the Yankee Stadium rafters had a familiar ring to it, until one listened a little more closely and realized the fans weren't yelling Mussina's nickname of "Moose." They were booing him.
The 32-year-old right-hander did mix in a few quality pitches before departing after five innings. He wound up striking out eight, including five of seven batters at one point. But three straight singles by Richard (3-for-5), Conine (2-for-5) and David Segui in the fifth brought another run across, Baltimore's sixth of the game, and served as the beginning of the end for Mussina.
"I tried to give them my best game today," Mussina said. "They gave me their best game and knocked me around the park."
New York manager Joe Torre summoned Brandon Knight, a rookie making his first major league appearance, to mop up the mess Mussina left. The young right-hander was greeted by back-to-back home runs by Brady Anderson and Bordick in the sixth that gave the Orioles a commanding 8-1 lead. It was Anderson's first since April 30.
Every Baltimore starter hit safely in a 17-hit barrage that represented the team's season high. The Orioles, who have won three of their last four, are two games under .500 heading into the final two games of the Yankees series.

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