- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2001

ORIOLES 3, DEVIL RAYS 1

BALTIMORE The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have become the Baltimore Orioles' version of the Washington Generals their designated losing opponent.
Last night the Orioles won their second straight against the Devil Rays, a 3-1 victory that included a solid start from Jason Johnson and strong relief by Mike Trombley and Ryan Kohlmeier, who earned his sixth save of the season.
Second baseman Jerry Hairston provided a majority of the offense, snapping out of a slump by going 2-for-3 with a two-run home run and two runs scored.
Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said Hairston has found a level of comfort at the plate.
"In the last three to four days, Jerry has really zeroed in on the strike zone and been patient at the plate," he said.
It was the sixth win in nine games against Tampa Bay for Baltimore. The Orioles (13-14) have one more against the Devil Rays tonight, when Jose Mercedes is scheduled to face Ryan Rupe with a chance for Baltimore to reach .500.
This might be the best ball the Orioles will play all season. Too bad no one's coming to watch it.
The Orioles began last night's game sixth in attendance in the American League and falling something they haven't experienced since Camden Yards opened in 1992. Four of the teams ahead of Baltimore in the turnstile race New York, Cleveland, Boston and Seattle have winning records. The Texas Rangers began last night with a record slightly worse than the Orioles' 11-15 yet they were averaging more than 4,000 more a game thanks to shortstop Alex Rodriguez.
No one not even Cal Ripken, who was in the starting lineup last night after sitting on the bench Monday is drawing people to Camden Yards these days. Last night's crowd of 27,208 was 1,300 less than the one on hand for Monday night's 5-3 win. Then again, Tampa Bay the only team behind Baltimore in the AL East is hardly an attraction either.
Those attendance figures are sure to jump starting tomorrow, when the New York Yankees arrive for a four-game series. Former Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina will take the mound for New York in the series finale Sunday. Of course, that surge in attendance will consist primarily of Yankees fans.
Last night's crowd was squarely behind the Orioles and Johnson (2-2), who had something to prove. He had a promising spring training and three strong starts to begin the season in which he allowed five runs in 18 1/3 innings. But then Johnson began to resemble the pitcher who posted a 1-10 record and 7.02 ERA last year. He allowed nine runs in 8 2/3 innings in his previous two games, losses to Tampa Bay and Detroit, and it appeared he was still stuck in that rut when last night's game began.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander, acquired in a trade from the Devil Rays two years ago for minor league outfielder Danny Clyburn, wound up throwing 26 pitches in the first inning alone, 16 of them balls. Still, only shortstop Russ Johnson reached base, stroking a single to center with one out. Ben Grieve then grounded out to first, and Greg Vaughn struck out to end the inning.
After that, Jason Johnson found his groove, retiring seven straight Devil Rays and keeping Tampa Bay off the scoreboard until the sixth inning. Damian Rolls reached first on an error by Ripken at third, stole second and scored on a triple to left by Russ Johnson an out later. Grieve struck out for the second out, at which time Hargrove came out and removed Johnson.
Hargrove said Johnson was suffering from a blister on the middle finger of his right hand "but he threw the ball well. He was a lot more in control of himself physically."
Said Johnson: "I was trying to overthrow the ball. This time I tried to be smooth and more relaxed."
Trombley came in the game and walked Vaughn but got Fred McGriff to ground out to second.
The Orioles' offense was generated by Hairston, who was 6-for-43 (.140) in his previous 13 games. But he showed signs of breaking the slump in Monday night's 5-3 win over Tampa Bay, when he went 2-for-3, reached on an error and scored a run for his first multi-hit game since Opening Day against Boston.
After a potential grand slam in the second inning off Devil Rays starter Bryan Rekar (0-4) curved foul, Hairston straightened out his home run stroke in the fifth. Melvin Mora led off with a walk and stole second. He moved to third on a fly ball to right by Brook Fordyce before Hairston launched a 2-0 pitch from Rekar into the left-field seats for a 2-0 Orioles lead.
After Tampa Bay scored in the top of the sixth, the Orioles added their third run in the bottom of the seventh when Hairston doubled to right with two outs and scored on a single to center by Brady Anderson.


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