Orioles closer Jim Johnson can be depended on to always be at his locker to answer questions anytime he becomes a focal point of a game following a blown save.
Those times have been rare, until recently, as Johnson has blown three consecutive ninth-inning leads that all ended in losses.Following the Orioles' 6-4 loss to the New York Yankees in the 10th inning on Monday at Camden Yards, Johnson put the team's season-high six-game losing streak in perspective.
“Well, three of them are my fault,” Johnson said. “The other guys do their job and I do mine, then we're not standing here. I think everybody's doing a great job. I'm just not pulling my weight. And I'll figure it out.
“I'm not getting the ball to where I need to be. We've watched a lot of tape, and working on certain things, staying tall a little bit longer. We will figure it out. I'll figure it out, there's no other option.”
Johnson had been a model of consistency, recording a remarkable streak of 35 straight converted save opportunities dating back to last July, serving as the crescendo of an Orioles bullpen that has been the team's strength since the beginning of last year.
But on Monday night, Johnson couldn't preserve a one-run lead, yielding a gut-punch, game-tying homer to Travis Hafner in the top of the ninth. The Yankees went on to plate two runs in the 10th inning for a 6-4 win.
The Orioles chased Yankees ace CC Sabathia — who has long dominated the Orioles at Camden Yards — from the game in the seventh inning and received a gritty quality start from right-hander Freddy Garcia, only for a win unravel with a bullpen implosion.
But Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he remains confident in Johnson.
"Jimmy's a very consistent human being,” Showalter said. “We didn't do enough to win tonight. We're all human beings. He's solid as they come. The want-to is over the top and he made a lot of good pitches tonight. It's frustrating for him, but he wasn't the only one who could come out of this game a little frustrated tonight."
Since he unofficially took over the team's closer job on Sept. 7, 2011, Johnson leads all of baseball with 72 saves, and given that, Johnson's sudden slump is startling.
Now the Orioles (23-21) have lost six straight games for the first time since last May 26 through June 1, the team's only losing streak of more than three games in 2012. This is also the first time they are two or fewer games above .500 since April 20.
The Yankees hit four homers off Orioles pitching, none more important than Hafner's game-tying shot off Johnson. The blow came on a 3-1 sinker that didn't sink and instead hung over the outside half of the plate, allowing Hafner to take it the opposite way into the left-field stands for the game-tying homer.
“Tonight [Johnson] just got that 3-1 count and had to come in there and threw a sinker that ran more than sank and Hafner put a good swing on it,” catcher Matt Wieters said. “It's not easy to hit home runs in this game especially off a guy that throws as hard as Jim. They put four solo homers together to keep them in the game.”
In the 10th, Pedro Strop — who had allowed just one run over his last 13 games — yielded back-to-back doubles to Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells, the latter of which scored the eventual game-winning run. Hafner then hit a two-out RBI single off Brian Matusz to score Wells and make it a 6-4 game.
Hot-hitting shortstop J.J. Hardy, hitting in the three hole for the first time this season, chased Sabathia from the game in the seventh inning by slapping an opposite-field double to right, scoring Nick Markakis with the go-ahead run. Hardy's hit was his 10th in 31 at bats against Sabathia.
The inning, which began with the Orioles trailing 3-2, was fueled by second baseman Alexi Casilla, who singled to open the inning for his 15th hit in 27 career at bats against the Yankees ace. The speedy Casilla scored the tying run from first base one batter later on Markakis' double into left-center.
Instead, Sabathia allowed a season-high 11 hits and four runs and lasted 6 1/3 innings, striking out two and walking none.
Garcia, despite pitching to a 7.45 ERA in his previous two starts, rebounded nicely against the team he played for the previous two seasons.
Garcia held the Yankees to two runs over six innings after falling behind 2-0 early on a pair of solo homers by Robinson Cano and David Adams. But following Adams' homer in the second inning, Garcia went on to face just one batter over the minimum, giving the Orioles back-to-back quality starts following a stretch in which Orioles starters went five innings or less in six of seven games.
“I was able to throw strikes and make good pitches when I needed,” Garcia said. “We made a couple for good [defensive] plays and that was good for me. Too bad we lost but its part of the game. And hopefully we can turn it around.”
Casilla also made a huge impact with his glove, making a pair of outstanding diving plays in critical situations.
He dove to his left on a ball hit by Curtis Granderson in the fourth and despite struggling to get to his feet, he threw a one-hopper first to get Granderson. And with Garcia in trouble with two on and one out in the sixth, Casilla snagged an in-between hop off the bat of Hafner and started an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
"Alexi put on a show at second base,” Showalter said. “What a game he had. My gosh, he was impressive.”
Reliever Troy Patton yieled a solo homer to Lyle Overbay in the seventh to give the Yankees a 3-2 lead.
Trailing 2-0, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis cut the gap to a run with his 13th homer of the season, a blast to center field on a full-count slider over the outside half of the plate. Davis' homer tied him with Cano for the AL lead in home runs.
twitter.com/EddieInTheYardCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun