- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 23, 2002

BALTIMORE As Jason Johnson began warming up for the top of the fifth inning last night, the Baltimore Orioles' right-hander suddenly lost vision in his left eye, his contact lens having shifted out of position.
Two pitches later, Johnson had no trouble seeing Vernon Wells' home run flying out of Camden Yards. Or Chris Woodward's. Or Carlos Delgado's in the sixth. Which was immediately followed by another one from Wells.
Four home runs in a span of 10 batters. By the time the crowd of 27,235 (or Johnson for that matter) fully realized what was going on, the Toronto Blue Jays were well on their way to a 6-3 victory.
The Orioles were left wondering what in the world happened to their starting pitcher.
"I lost something, I don't know what it was," Johnson said. "I can't explain it."
Mike Hargrove had a theory.
"He struggled to find his change-up and his breaking ball," the manager said, "and it got to the point that he didn't trust either one of those and went to his fastball. He started missing his locations, got hit, and got hit hard."
The right-hander was cruising along for four innings, retiring 12 of the first 13 batters he faced. But when he took the mound for the top of the fifth, there was an immediate sense that things were about to go downhill.
During warmups, Baltimore trainer Richie Bancells jogged out of the dugout and helped Johnson retrieve his wayward contact lens. With the problem apparently resolved, Johnson completed his warm-up tosses and prepared to face Wells.
The Toronto center fielder, who crushed a three-run homer off Johnson last Wednesday at SkyDome, took him deep again, belting a 1-0 fastball into the left-field bleachers. Four pitches later, Woodward duplicated the feat, launching a 2-1 curveball to left field to make it 2-0.
Johnson admitted he felt the need to rush his warm-up pitches following the contact lens incident, and that it could have had an effect on his quick decline.
Perhaps more pertinent was a sudden decline in the velocity of his fastball, from 93-94 mph to 90 mph. That was obvious in the sixth, when Eric Hinske and Jose Cruz Jr. led off with singles, and Delgado followed with a mammoth, three-run homer to right-center.
Pitching coach Mark Wiley came out to try to settle Johnson down, but it was already too late. Wells connected on Johnson's very next pitch, sending a drive to left field for his 14th homer of the year, his second in as many innings and his third off Johnson in six days.
Many in the crowd began to boo the right-hander and called for Hargrove to pull him from the game. But Johnson's downfall happened so fast, reliever Chris Brock had only just begun loosening up at the time and needed two more batters before he finally entered.
Johnson (3-8) has not won in his last four starts. He's given up 13 homers in 13 starts this season, seven of which have come in his last two appearances (though one was Ken Huckaby's inside-the-parker).
"I've got to get the strength back in my arm," Johnson said, "to be able to hold the speed of my fastball through five, six, seven innings."
Asked if he thinks the drop in velocity could be injury-related, Johnson replied: "Not that I know of."
Like his counterpart, Toronto starter Roy Halladay dominated through the first four innings, facing just one more than the minimum. And like Johnson, Halladay faltered in the fifth.
Jay Gibbons, coming off his third two-homer game of the month, led off by smoking Halladay's first-pitch fastball to right-center for his 19th of the season. A pair of Blue Jays errors one by third baseman Hinske, one by left fielder Shannon Stewart led to two more runs and gave Baltimore a momentary 3-2 lead.
But unlike Johnson, Halladay (12-4) regained his form. He mowed through the order in the sixth, loaded the bases in the seventh, but struck out Melvin Mora and got Chris Singleton to fly out to the warning track to end the inning.
Set-up man Cliff Politte struck out the side in the eighth, and closer Kelvim Escobar pitched the ninth to earn his 19th save.
Notes Mora was back with the Orioles yesterday after taking Sunday off to drive his wife to New York following her brother's death.
Oscar Alvarado, 23, Gisel Mora's younger brother, died Sunday in an automobile accident in Brooklyn, N.Y. Mora drove his wife to New York, dropped her off and returned to Baltimore. He was back in the starting lineup and played shortstop last night.
Mora's brother, Jose, was the victim of an apparent contract murder in April.
The Orioles have signed Val Majewski, their third-round selection in June's amateur draft. The 21-year-old outfielder from Rutgers was in attendance at last night's game and will begin playing tomorrow for Baltimore's new short-season Class A club in Aberdeen.


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