His rough stretch in May seemed to be becoming a distant memory.
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“I came real close to keeping it tied. But obviously I dug myself my own hole,” said Johnson, whose last blown save was May 26 in Toronto. “Hammel did a great job tonight and it takes away from his pitching performance. … It kind of leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”
Johnson (2-6) walked off the mound to boos from some in the announced 18,082, which had braved a rain delay of 1 hour and 6 minutes before the first pitch on a sticky and soggy Baltimore night.
“Jimmy's been solid for us. He's a rock. And he'll be back, and pitch, and be a part of contributing, hopefully, to a good club,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Tonight, he elevated the ball a little bit the first couple hitters and then he pitched real well after that.”
Cleveland reliever Vinnie Pestano pitched a perfect ninth — striking out two — to pick up his fifth save and give the Indians (40-37) their sixth win in eight games.
The Orioles (43-36), who have dropped five of six, must win Thursday's finale to salvage a tie in the four-game series.
It was a particularly disappointing loss considering the Orioles mounted a comeback in the eighth to take a one-run lead — a flashback to their winning blueprint of 2012 — only to see it fade in the top of the ninth.
“That was a great game. Good pitching, good defense,” Johnson said. “And it was kind of characteristic of how we played last year a lot. Last year's last year and this year's this year. It's unfortunate, but like I said, we'll come back ready to play tomorrow.”
The Orioles couldn't do much of anything against Indians starter Scott Kazmir, who carried a no-hitter and shutout into the seventh and was forced out before throwing a pitch in the bottom of the eighth due to back spasms.
Cleveland reliever Joe Smith (4-0) loaded the bases with one out in the eighth before Nick Markakis slapped an RBI groundout to second base to tie the game at 2-2. Manny Machado followed with a long single off the left-field wall to give the Orioles their first lead.
It was a huge turn of events considering Kazmir had allowed just one hit — Machado's big-league-leading 36th double of the season to lead off the seventh. He later scored an unearned run on Chris Davis' sacrifice fly.
Kazmir, who struck out four, didn't allow a baserunner until a one-out walk to Matt Wieters in the fifth.
“He was using what was being given to him and making it work for him,” said Showalter in a subtle critique of home plate umpire Ted Barrett's strike zone. “[Kazmir's] got a good arm, velocity. Showed enough on the inner half and spun the ball enough. He settled in on that fastball away and in, and made use of it very effectively. He had a good outing, obviously.”
Neither side had a hit until the top of the fourth — and it was a big one.
But first there was a little bit of controversy, part of the theme Wednesday.
Hammel had retired the first 10 Indians he faced before throwing a first-pitch slider that appeared to hit the ground. Barrett, however, ruled that the ball plunked Asdrubal Cabrera's foot and awarded the Cleveland shortstop first base.
Seven pitches later, Jason Kipnis hit a 94-mph fastball from Hammel over the left-center wall for his 11th home run of the season and second in two games.
“It was basically one pitch. It wasn't a terrible pitch, but it was the only two-seamer I threw that didn't really have depth. And he's good enough hitter to go out and get it right now,” Hammel said. “Other than that, I thought I competed well, made pitches when I needed to.”
There wasn't much offense for most of the night — but there were several highlight moments.
In the fourth, Machado hit a ball in the right-side hole that Cleveland first baseman Nick Swisher gloved. Swisher threw to a sprinting Kazmir as Machado dove headfirst into the bag. Replays showed Machado's hand clearly beat Kazmir's foot to first base, but rookie ump Will Little, in his first series in the big leagues this week, called Machado out.
The Indians also were the victim of a missed umpiring call when Barrett ruled that Hammel didn't hit Kipnis in the left foot with a pitch in the sixth despite Kipnis moving around in obvious pain. Replays showed the ball did strike Kipnis — so Barrett was 0-for-2 in hit-by-pitch calls.
Ultimately, though, it was the two earned runs off Johnson in the ninth that were the difference.
“When our closer comes in the game, Johnson, we're believing that we're going to win this game,” center fielder Adam Jones said. “Late walks kill you, I know Johnson will tell you that. They came out and they had a plan and beat our closer. Sometimes you've just got to tip your cap to that.”