|News Archives: June 2001|
To repeat the cliche: good news, bad news. The good news is that Jason Johnson seems to be establishing himself (finally). More than that, he's becoming one of the top pitchers in the league. On Sunday, he had yet another great outing, coming within one out of his first career complete game and firtst career shutout -- a goal he would probably have reached, had he not been the victim of a Jerry Hairston error. Fortunately, Buddy Groom was there to pick up the slack, coming in with two runners -- the tying and winning runners for the Expos -- and getting the final out. The bad news was the reason the game was so close -- the (again) pathetic showing by the offense. In fact, with just 6 hits -- five of them singles -- and two walks -- they were lucky to get any runs at all. Fortunately, they bunched three of the hits and a walk in the same inning, the second, and were able to score two of the three runs that Johnson needed.
The victory, coupled with the Blue Jays' loss, allowed the Orioles to pull back into third place by half a game.
Sigh. The Orioles just can't keep up any sort of excitement, can they? There never seems to be anything to build upon with this team. Towers throws a shutout, perhaps the Orioles' single best start all year, and yet the Orioles come out flat the very next day. It's not like they ever score a lot of runs, but one would have hoped to have seen something from them. Instead, they rolled over and played dead. Other than Melvin Mora's home run, there was nothing to even notice about their offense. Meanwhile, their pitching staff was almost good enough; Willis Roberts, continuing his off-again/on-again pitching, was brilliant -- even if it was against the lowly Expos. And Ryan Kohlmeier, pitching the final 1.1 innings, came into the game with 2 runners on base and kept them both from scoring. Great! The only problem? In between those two performances, B.J. Ryan gave up two hits and three walks in allowing 3 runs while retiring just two batters.
The team's loss was their 8th in their last 12 games, after briefly re-reaching the .500 mark two weeks ago. Had they won, they could have pulled back into third place ahead of the Blue Jays.
The most exciting thing about watching a baseball team is winning a World Series. The second most exciting thing is watching a young player come up from the farm and turn into a star. It might be a little early to start calling Josh Towers a star, but things sure look good so far. Admittedly, shutting down the Montreal Expos' excuse for a lineup doesn't take Pedro Martinez. On the other hand, we've seen plenty of Oriole pitchers get hit hard in games that they should have won. But not on Friday. Not when Towers was pitching. Offensively, the Orioles weren't overly impressive, but thanks to Towers, it didn't matter. David Segui homered, and that would have been all the team needed.
Ouch. Ouch. Triple-ouch. This is why we don't believe in momentum in baseball. A day after a supposedly inspiring victory over the Yankees, the Orioles had a chance to pull within a game of .500. And to do so, they wouldn't have to beat Mike Mussina with a (relatively) young pitcher; instead, they'd just have to beat Yankee youngster Ted Lilly. And they were sending their most veteran starter, Jose Mercedes, to the mound. Unfortunately, as we know (but the Orioles don't), age has little to do with success, so the game didn't turn out the way the Orioles would have wanted. Again, the Orioles took an early lead thanks to some strong pitching. But this time, they squandered the lead, and then after retaking it, blew it late in the game, losing 7-4 as Mike Trombley served up a grand slam. With the loss, the Orioles ensured that they would enter interleague play on Friday with a losing record.
Check out our latest Bricks From the Warehouse offering, where we begin grading the Orioles on their performance over the first third of the season.
The big news from Tuesday and Wednesday were not the Yankee games, but the 2001 amateur draft. The Orioles had three picks in the first round (courtesy of the Yankees' signing of free agent Mike Mussina), and chose LHP Chris Smith, 2B Mike Fontenot, and SS Allan/Bryan Bass. While a baseball draft cannot be judged based on the first round, and while it's far too early to judge the draft in any context, we find the Orioles' strategy confusing. They have some organizational pitching depth, but absolutely no position players. So they draft a pitcher with the first pick? Then, they draft a second baseman -- which is highly unusual; most top athletes play shortstop -- despite having youngster Jerry Hairston on the team? And then they draft a shortstop, despite the fact that they're extremely high on prospects Ed Rogers and Brian Roberts? Like we said, we'll reserve judgment -- but we're puzzled.
A couple of quick draft notes: the Orioles drafted the brother of ex-O Rocky Coppinger in the 7th round, and the son of Hall of Famer Robin Yount in the ninth. In addition to the draft, there were a few other transactions in recent days. The Orioles signed a last-minute deal with their 33rd round pick from last year, OF Kurt Birkins. He was one of only 18 signings from last draft, a poor showing. And in addition, the Orioles called up LHP John Parrish and demoted RHP Chad Paronto. (For our Transactions Breakdown....)
A few other Ex-O notes which we've neglected to mention because of our absence in the past week: RHP Kevin Brown, Dodger ace, was put on the disabled list. OF Bobby Bonilla was suspended for a game and fined for fighting last month. OF Kimera Bartee was sent to the minors by Anaheim after having been on the 60-day DL all year. SS Ozzie Guillen, finally forced to retire, was named the Expos' first base coach. Given their team OBP, that ought to limit his duties considerably. IF Mark Lewis was demoted to AAA by Cleveland. And batting practice RHP Shawn Boskie retired, to the sorrow of batters everywhere. Last week, RHP Bob Milacki, pitching coach for Hickory, was named one of the pitching coaches for the South Atlantic League's All-Star Game. Last week, LHP Norm Charlton, making a career comeback with the Mariners, was put on the DL. 3B/NBA Reject Ryan Minor got sent down. And the Dodgers called up ReallyOldLHP Jesse Orosco.
And finally, some bad news: Ex-O Gene Woodling passed away from heart failure at the age of 78 over the weekend. Woodling played for the Orioles on two separate occasions in the 1950s in his career, also playing for the Indians, Yankees, Pirates, Senators, and Mets in his 17-year career. He had been ill after suffering a stroke a few years ago. Woodling was part of the infamous 17-player trade between the Yankees and Orioles on November 8, 1954.
That may be what's known as "passing the baton." Last week, Josh Towers, wearing Mike Mussina's old number for the Orioles, pitched like Mussina in shutting down Texas and Oakland. And on Tuesday, Jason Johnson outpitched Mike Mussina directly, as the Orioles took an easy win over the New York Yankees. The Orioles are hot. They're no longer slumping, offensively or overall. And it's not because they're beating up on the woeful Devil Rays anymore, either. Instead, they're thumping contenders like the Yankees. The Yankees may not be the powerhouse that they've been in the past -- Seattle seems to have taken over that role -- but they're still a good team, and with Mike Mussina on the mound, a walkover of the Orioles was expected. But it didn't happen; the Orioles took an early lead and coasted to an easy 10-3 victory.