By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
7:13 PM EDT, May 26, 2013
Orioles closer Jim Johnson entered the ninth inning of Sunday afternoon’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays coming off two clean outings, including saving a one-run win the day before.
But Johnson walked off the field -- with Blue Jays players running around the field in jubilation -- with an all too familiar feeling of frustration.
Johnson couldn’t preserve a three-run, ninth-inning lead, blowing his fourth save in his past five opportunities in the Orioles’ 6-5 walkoff loss at the Rogers Centre.
Clinging to a 5-4 lead with runners on first and third, Johnson was just one strike away from his 16th save of the season until Blue Jays No. 9 hitter Munenori Kawasaki slapped a full-count 95 mph fastball into the left-center field gap, scoring both runners and igniting a Toronto celebration at home plate.
The Orioles (27-23) were so close to heading back to Baltimore with a series win here in Toronto, but instead had to settle for a sour series split.
“That’s not the way we want it to happen,” Johnson said. “We should be getting on the plane with three wins here, but I can’t hang my head too long. It’s going to hurt for a little bit, and it should. We’ve got to get ready to play again [Monday].”
Johnson, who converted 51 of 54 save opportunities last season, already has more blown saves eight weeks into this season. In converting each of his first 14 save opportunities of 2013, he pitched to a 0.95 ERA. But over his past six appearances – which includes three straight blown saves – Johnson has an ERA of 21.60.
“You’re dealing with fractions here and there, so a little bit here and there and you get a different result,” Johnson said. I’m going to keep working. Like I said before, that’s all I can do is keep plugging away and trusting that I can do it. I know I can. It’s just that the results haven’t been what I’ve wanted them to be lately.”
During the Orioles’ four games in Toronto, the offenses ruled. The teams combined for 102 hits, a record for a four-game series between the Orioles and Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre.
That made for a frenetically paced series in which the teams combined for 56 runs and no leads appeared to be safe.
“It’s a tough loss,” said Orioles catcher Matt Wieters, who recorded his first four-hit day of the season with three doubles, a single and three RBIs. “You would ultimately like to win this series, but we’ll move on and get to Washington and forget it on the plane. But that was a ... good hitting team and at any time they can put some hits together.”
On Sunday, the Orioles went into the bottom of the ninth leading 5-2, but Johnson struggled with his control, recording four three-ball counts to the seven hitters he faced, allowing four hits and a walk.
“We did a good job of taking pitches and making him throw strikes,” Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie said. “And when he did, we capitalized.”
With one run in and a runner on first with one out, Johnson walked Anthony Gose to load the bases and put the winning run on first base. Mark DeRosa’s ground ball to short plated another run, but a force play at second put runners at the corners for Kawasaki.
Johnson fell behind Kawasaki, a .228 hitter coming into the game, with 2-0 and 3-1 counts until the game-winning hit fell in the left-center gap and rolled to the wall.
"He made a lot of good pitches,” Showalter said of Johnson. “He just kind of painted himself in a corner there and we just couldn't get it done. He had a great outing [Saturday] night and the time before. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to the opposition."
Showalter made it clear that Johnson's closer job is not in jeopardy. He said he won’t hesitate to pitch Johnson, who threw a season-high 37 pitches, when another save situation arises, even on Monday when the Orioles open a two-game series in Washington.
“I like using Jimmy,” Showalter said. “I like our chances."
An Orioles bullpen that accounted for 14 innings this series and pitched to a 10.29 ERA might have taken a serious hit when right-hander Tommy Hunter made an inning-saving bare-hand snatch of Jose Bautista’s comebacker in the eighth inning.
With the bases loaded with two outs and the Orioles clinging to a 3-2 lead, Bautista one-hopped a 99 mph fastball right back at Hunter. With his momentum taking him to the left, Hunter’s only chance at the ball was to reach out with his bare hand.
“If something's not broken, he might have the strongest hand ever,” Jays starting pitcher Chad Jenkins said.
Hunter, who said the pitch hit off the upper palm of his hand, had the hand wrapped after the game. Showalter said X-rays performed following the game were negative.
“I think it will be all right,” Hunter said. “Hopefully it’s not very sore. Hopefully the swelling goes down and stays down. We’ll check it out tomorrow. I think I’ll be all right.
Wieters gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead in the top of the ninth with a two-run, two-out double down the right-field line. Before Wieters’ clutch ninth-inning hit, the Orioles were 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position. They stranded 12 runners on the game.
Orioles center fielder Adam Jones homered in all four games of the series, including a solo shot off reliever Aaron Loup in the seventh.
Jones’ 10th homer of the season was his ninth at the Rogers Centre since the start of the 2012 season, the most of any opposing player in that span. He’s also hit 20 career homers against the Blue Jays, the third-most of any player since 2006, when Jones made his big league debut.
Orioles right-hander Miguel Gonzalez held the Blue Jays to one run over 5 2/3 innings. He was one out shy of recording his second quality start since going on the disabled list with a right thumb blister.
In 16 career starts against AL East teams, Gonzalez is 9-3 with a 3.64 ERA. Gonzalez has also compiled a 3.03 ERA on the road since the beginning of the 2012 season, the second-best mark of an AL pitcher with a minimum of 75 innings, trailing only Seattle’s Felix Hernandez (3.01).
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