BALTIMORE - It was 23 years ago Wednesday when Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Dave Johnson stood on the mound at Memorial Stadium for the first time in his major league career.
Johnson went on to hurl a one-run, complete game against the Minnesota Twins for his first career victory. Wednesday, on a humid night in Baltimore in front of 17,312 at Camden Yards his son Steve Johnson had a chance to replicate the feat.
Hurling 12 consecutive strikes and fanning the side around a single by Seattle Mariners designated hitter Jesus Montero in the first inning, Johnson didn't throw a complete game but he pitched 6 strong innings to earn his first career victory when the O's downed the Mariners 9-2 for a three-game sweep.
"That's just weird to be honest with you," Johnson said when asked about the exact 23 year difference. "It's great. It's pretty cool and it's something well be able to talk about for a while. When I heard that I was like great, no pressure at all."
Tommy Hunter - the original planned starter for the game - had to warm up on Tuesday night because the game went 14 innings and Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he didn't feel comfortable asking the righty to ramp it up again for Wednesday night so Johnson got the call.
The rookie didn't have to wait long for the Orioles (60-51) to back him up when catcher Matt Wieters ripped a two-run double to right in the bottom of the first inning staking Johnson to a 2-0 lead.
After breezing through the first, Johnson ran into a jam very quickly in the top of the second after a leadoff single by Kyle Seager and a walk to Mike Carp. After recording the first out, Johnson walked Eric Thames to load the bases and it seemed as if the Mariners (51-62) were poised to plate a few runs.
With the runners moving, Mariners shortstop Munenori Kawasaki tried to drop down a suicide squeeze, but Johnson pounced off the mound and flipped the ball to Wieters to get the force out at home for the second out of the inning. The young hurler induced a pop out to second base by Dustin Ackley and escaped the threat unscathed.
"He had some shutdown innings after we scored some runs. He attacked the strike zone with good pitches. A lot of people just go out there throwing balls right down the middle thinking 'all I got to do is throw strikes,' but he didn't," Showalter said. "He made quality strikes and he competed well in that inning. He didn't give in and he followed [Wieters]."
The fans at Camden Yards witnessed a familiar scene except this time the script was flipped in a manner more positive for the Orioles. After watching then-Orioles starter Kevin Millwood lose seven of eight decisions at the Yard back in 2010, the Birds had the opportunity to beat up on the now-Mariners starter and knock him out after just four innings.
Nick Markakis led off the bottom of the third with a triple down the right field line and J.J. Hardy promptly knocked him in with a single. Later in the inning, Wieters plated Hardy on an RBI groundout to second base.
Things got even worse for Millwood in the fourth when first baseman Mark Reynolds smoked his ninth homer of the season into the center field seats. The next batter, Omar Quintanilla, singled then Markakis drilled a home run over the scoreboard in right field, staking the O's to a 7-0 lead and essentially ending Millwood's night on the hill.
Wieters later doubled in the seventh, driving in two and matching a career-high with five RBIs in the contest. Adam Jones notched three hits, including a pair of doubles that were hammered down the left-field line and eight different Orioles notched at least one hit on the way to a team total of 14.
"What a night Wieters had after catching that ball game last night," Showalter said. "I came close to not catching him today, but what a night he had. He's a very calming influence on young pitchers because they know nobody works harder pitching to the opposition than [Wieters] and they trust him.
"It was important to [Wieters] to be back there with [Johnson] today."
Using a curveball that clocked in almost 25 miles-per-hour slower than his 90-mph fastball, Johnson kept the Mariners off-balance and recorded nine strikeouts to just the two walks he issued in the second. The only blemish came on a two-run opposite field homer by Seager in the sixth inning, but Johnson finished off his outing with a strikeout on his 97th and final pitch of the evening for the Orioles fifth straight victory.
"It was great and it was unbelievable. Words really can't explain. I knew a lot of people who texted me and told me they were coming a lot of people from my high school and people I went to high school with. It was great," Johnson said.
After seeing new guys come in at different positions all year, it wasn't hard for Jones to pinpoint how Johnson was so effective against the Mariners.
"Threw strike one. It's the big leagues, if you don't throw strike one it's going to be a long inning and a long game," he said. "From the first pitch to the last pitch he threw he was attacking that strike zone."