- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 21, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. Sooner or later, Chris Singleton figured he would get a big hit and break out of his horrific slump. Jay Gibbons figured opposing pitchers would stop throwing him first-pitch fastballs. And Jason Johnson figured he would win a ballgame for a change.
Two of the three came true last night in the Baltimore Orioles' 6-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but Gibbons surely is thankful that his assumption was not correct.
Behind seven strong innings from Johnson, a slump-breaking triple from Singleton and Gibbons' league-leading seventh home run, the Orioles won back-to-back games for the first time this season and ensured their first series victory.
After dropping 11 of its first 15 games, Baltimore has won two in a row at cavernous Tropicana Field, where a less-than-rowdy gathering of 11,402 witnessed last night's proceedings. The Orioles will shoot for a series sweep, and fourth place in the American League East, in today's matinee.
"Guys are starting slowly but surely [to come around]," manager Mike Hargrove said. "But Rome wasn't built in a day. We'll keep running people out there and giving them shots."
Last night, all eyes were on Johnson, who was making his first start since a career-low 1⅓-inning performance in Chicago last Sunday, after which the right-hander said he was suffering from a "dead arm." Though he got into a couple of early jams, Johnson's velocity was nearly all the way back. And he improved as the game wore on, holding the Devil Rays without a hit after the third inning while retiring 11 straight batters to earn his first win of the season.
Make that his first win in more than eight months.
Johnson (1-3) had not seen a "W" next to his name since beating the Kansas City Royals on Aug. 6, a span of 12 starts during which he went 0-9.
He snapped that dubious streak last night and in the process snapped another disturbing one that has plagued the Orioles through the first three weeks of the season. Baltimore's second, third and fourth starting pitchers Johnson, Sidney Ponson and Josh Towers were a combined 0-7 with a 6.52 ERA, yet one more factor contributing to the Orioles' 5-11 start.
"I didn't think about it, I honestly didn't," Johnson said. "I pitched well enough to get wins, but it just didn't come. I faced a guy who pitched a little bit better than I did. So it didn't bother me at all. I'm just glad to come out here and get a win tonight."
Johnson showed no signs of a dead arm against Tampa Bay, firing off a season-high 119 pitches before giving way to reliever Willis Roberts, who recorded six outs for his first save (and the Orioles' second) of the year.
"The first three innings, I was a little timid; I wasn't sure how my shoulder would react," Johnson said. "Once I got through that, it was feeling better, and as I got deeper into the game it loosened up. Hopefully, [the dead arm] is all done with and I don't have to worry about it anymore."
Said Hargrove: "It seemed like the longer he went, the stronger he got."
Nobody was happier to contribute to last night's victory than Singleton, who has endured a disastrous start. The center fielder, acquired over the winter from the Chicago White Sox for prospect Willie Harris, carried an .089 batting average (5-for-56) into his fifth-inning at-bat against Tampa Bay's Paul Wilson (1-1).
But Singleton, whose sacrifice fly in the 13th inning late Friday night helped propel the Orioles to a 6-5 victory, smashed a liner to the right-center gap. Melvin Mora scored as Singleton raced around to third with his first big hit of the season and, amazingly, Baltimore's first triple (the Orioles were the last team in the majors to hit one).
"All of a sudden, something clicked, and it's something that I've been missing for the last few weeks," said Singleton, who added a single in the ninth. "I'm not doing anything now that I haven't done in the past. I just got away from myself."
A few minutes after Singleton's triple, Gibbons stepped to the plate to lead off the sixth and to the surprise of no one except perhaps Wilson, clubbed a first-pitch fastball over the center-field fence for his fifth home run in seven games.
Gibbons' homer should not have come as a surprise because the second-year outfielder has been terrorizing opponents on the first pitch at an astounding rate. Six of Gibbons' seven homers have come on the first pitch, and he's 12-for-23 (a .522 average) overall with no count. If an opposing pitcher manages to get the first pitch past Gibbons, his chances for recording an out drastically improve; Gibbons' batting average on every other count is a mere .205 (8-for-39).
"I'm sure word will get around the league," Hargrove said. "If they adjust to him, he's going to have to readjust. That's what the game is all about."

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