- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

BALTIMORE — With Sidney Ponson gone, the role of top young pitcher on the Baltimore Orioles staff has been passed to Jason Johnson.

And last night the tall right-hander handled it with ease, holding the Minnesota Twins to two runs over six innings in a 3-2 triumph at Camden Yards.

“I felt really good tonight, a lot better than I did in Minnesota,” Johnson said, referring to a July 31 start in which he allowed five runs and 11 hits in 4⅓ innings. “I had good control tonight.”

The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for the Orioles (53-57) as the team showed no signs of the August collapse it experienced last season. The Orioles, who went 15-10 in July, improved to 3-2 this month and remain one of the hottest teams in the American League since the All-Star break with 12 wins in 19 games.

Johnson (9-5), who allowed two runs on five hits, struck out one and walked three, got the victory thanks to the Orioles’ bullpen. The bullpen, which has struggled at times this season, held the lead over the final three innings as four relievers allowed just one hit. Closer Jorge Julio pitched the ninth to earn his 26th save.

Things weren’t completely smooth for Johnson. He got off to a shaky start when he walked Shannon Stewart to lead off the game and Stewart went to second on a wild pitch. Johnson then struck out Luis Rivas but walked Doug Mientkiewicz. However, the right-hander got Corey Koskie to ground into a fielder’s choice and then retired Torii Hunter on comebacker to get out of the inning.

Johnson then retired nine straight Minnesota hitters until Jacque Jones led off the fifth with a single to right.

Minnesota’s Kenny Rogers (8-6), who allowed just seven hits and two earned runs in seven innings, did his part to make it a pitcher’s duel, but the Twins left-hander was betrayed by his defense in the third inning.

Brook Fordyce led off with a single to center, and Larry Bigbie reached on a walk. As Brian Roberts squared around to bunt, Fordyce was caught in a rundown between second and third. Third baseman Koskie — in just his second game since coming off the disabled list with a strained lower back — threw the ball away, allowing Fordyce to come around to score. Roberts singled to center to move Bigbie to third, and Bigbie scored on a groundout by Matos to make it 2-0.

“We made one mistake, and it cost us a run early in the game,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That hurt us, came back to hurt us. We lose the ballgame by one run.”

The Twins got on the board in the fifth when Jones scored on a two-out single to center by Stewart.

Rogers was done in again by Koskie in the fifth.

Fordyce led off with a single to left and went to second on a balk by Rogers. After getting two outs, Rogers allowed Matos to hit a soft liner to left for a single. Orioles third base coach Tom Treblehorn waved the slow-footed Fordyce home for the insurance run. It appeared as if Stewart had a play at the plate when he made the throw, but Koskie cut off the ball and tried to get Matos at second. Matos was safe.

Johnson tired in the seventh inning, when the Twins added a run after A.J. Pierzyski singled to center, and Johnson went 2-0 on Michael Restovich. Pitching coach Mark Wiley came out to the mound, and Johnson told him he was tired.

“I was a little tired [before he went out for the top of the seventh], but I thought I was going to be OK,” Johnson said. He wasn’t, as he walked Restovich.

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove already had Hector Carrasco warming in the bullpen, so he brought him in. Cristian Guzman moved Pierzynski to third on a sacrifice bunt, and he scored on a ground ball to second by Stewart. With Restovich at third, Rivas popped up to short to end the inning.

Notes — The Orioles put outfielder Melvin Mora on the 15-day disabled list because of a bruised right hand retroactive to last Friday. The team hoped to avoid taking another hitter off the active roster with B.J. Surhoff and David Segui already on the DL. Mora’s hand has not healed fast enough, and the team decided it could not leave the position open for Mora. He is batting .325 with 14 home runs and 46 RBI in 85 games. The Orioles recalled outfielder Jack Cust from Class AAA Ottawa for his third stint with the major league club. Cust, who was batting .285 with nine home runs and 58 RBI in 79 games for Ottawa, has yet to play a game with the Orioles. …

The Orioles and catcher Brook Fordyce will hold a community blood drive from 7:30a.m. to 3:30p.m. today on the sixth floor of the B&O; Warehouse at Camden Yards. The catcher will be there from noon to 2p.m to greet donors. All donors will receive two tickets to the Sept.5 Orioles game against the Seattle Mariners and an autographed photo of Fordyce.

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