Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Guthrie's Guile, Johnson's Poise Win It

BALTIMORE -- Jim Johnson was promoted to the big leagues more than a month ago, but one could make the argument that he didn't truly arrive until Tuesday night. The rookie reliever started his season with 18 scoreless innings and progressively worked his way deeper into games before earning his first starring role in the Orioles' 5-4 win over Red Sox.

Johnson had pitched in tie games before and he'd even pitched in the ninth and 10th innings for Baltimore, but he'd never taken the ball against the defending World Series champions and in front of a racuous crowd. Johnson came in with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh inning Tuesday and managed to preserve his team's precarious two-run lead.

"You've kind of got to go with the horse blinders and just believe in yourself," he said shortly after the win. "At that point, I didn't really notice [the crowd]. I just didn't want to throw it into the stands."

The situation was about as dire as it could be when Johnson entered the game. The right-hander -- a veteran of 15 big league games -- came in with the potential go-ahead run standing at first base and had to face 11-time All-Star Manny Ramirez. The Boston slugger fouled off several pitches, but Johnson coaxed him into hitting into a 1-2-3 double play.

The inning wasn't over at that point, but Johnson ended Boston's threat on a lazy fly ball to left field.

"He worked a pitching miracle right there," said Baltimore starter Jeremy Guthrie. "He didn't give in to him [and] he executed a lot of difficult pitches. That's the thing that's so difficult: He didn't throw three or four pitches and get a come-backer. He threw about nine or 10 pitches and he executed every one of them exactly how he was trying to."

"He came in to pound the strike zone," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "He wasn't going to try to trick anybody. He was going to go right at them. That was a heck of an at-bat and he just kept pounding it."

Johnson's story started out improbably and has progressed way past that point. The former fifth-round pick had made two big league appearances prior to this season, and he'd allowed 10 earned runs in just five innings. He joined the club as an extra arm after a rainout and a doubleheader, but now he seems indispensable in the middle innings.

"He's done great," said closer George Sherrill, who worked a five-out save on Tuesday. "He's picked us up time and again, not only getting out of jams but picking up innings when we need them. He's learning as he goes."

Johnson got another learning experience in the eighth, when he walked back-to-back batters with one out. Boston (24-18) reached him for a one-run single, but Sherrill came in and escaped on a fly ball and a hard grounder to first base. The southpaw worked the ninth and recorded his 14th save on two strikeouts and a fly ball to center field.

The ninth inning received some extra excitement when David Ortiz was ejected for arguing that he checked his swing on a strikeout pitch, but Sherrill maintained his composure and didn't allow the atmosphere to affect him.

"I think it says something about our team," said Trembley, basking in the glow of the win. "We had to work for it. We had to earn it. But I think everybody learned a little more about the Baltimore Orioles tonight. I'm real proud of our team."

Baltimore (20-19) trailed early, but left fielder Luke Scott bailed them out with a big offensive day. Scott singled and scored the home team's first run in the second inning, and he put Baltimore up for good with a three-run homer in the third. Scott hadn't hit a home run since April 8, but his shot off Boston starter Josh Beckett put the Orioles in control.

"It felt like more than a month, but we all go through struggles in life," Scott said after the game. "And they're always difficult, but I rely on my faith to get me through. ... What I can do is come to the ballpark every day, get my work in, be prepared and put myself in a position to be successful. Go out there and have a game plan -- try to execute it."

Guthrie (2-3) persevered despite a difficult first inning that saw Boston score three runs and Baltimore make two errors. The right-hander rebounded, allowing just one runner to make it into scoring position between the second and sixth innings. He came back out for the seventh, but Trembley pulled him after two quick hits put the potential tying run on base.

"I had scuffled in the warmups, and going out there and having that happen was tough," Guthrie said of the first inning. "I think that was one of the tougher situations that I've been in -- more mentally than anything. But we came out the next inning and got some outs, and hitters did a tremendous job of really battling against Josh."

"He kind of epitomizes what tonight was all about for us," said Trembley. "The guy is mentally tough. Real tough. The way the game started wasn't exactly the way you'd like to draw it up, especially coming back home after being on such a long trip. I think he really showed his grit by pitching the way he did for as long as he did after such a rough start."


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