The New York Yankees accused Seattle's Randy Johnson of intentionally throwing at Jim Leyritz last week. Maybe the Yankees shouldn't complain: The way Johnson is throwing this year, getting drilled by a pitch could be a hitter's best shot at getting on base.
The 6-foot-10 Johnson pitching against the Orioles at Camden Yards last night looked entirely like something you see in Little League, the kid who hit puberty early and dominates his overmatched and undersized -- and possibly terrified -- peers. Johnson struck out 12 and shut out the Orioles, 2-0, on just three hits and one walk.
Orioles starter Ben McDonald, pitching just hours after his arbitration case was heard at a nearby hotel, made just two mistakes in nine innings. The first was a fastball to Jay Buhner, thrown too much over the middle of the plate and hit too far into the left-field stands.
McDonald's second mistake was pitching on the same night as Johnson, who began the game with a 5-0 record and a 2.16 ERA, with 70 strikeouts in his first 50 innings. He started against the Orioles on May 26 and struck out 13 in 6 2/3 innings.
He was awesome that night; seven of the nine hitters in the Orioles order -- everybody except second baseman Bret Barberie and right fielder Kevin Bass -- struck out at least once.
Last night, Johnson was even better.
Orioles manager Phil Regan loaded his lineup with right-handed hitters. First baseman Rafael Palmeiro sat; so did Harold Baines, and the injured Brady Anderson. All right-hand hitters to battle stations.
Johnson just blew them away. All of them. The Orioles took half-swings and checked swings and tried, more than anything, just to get a piece of the ball. Right away, in the first inning, you could see that Johnson was throwing strikes with his slider, which has a break so fantastic that it can be seen from high in the stands (but not very well from 60 feet, 6 inches). Palmeiro said after striking out three times on May 26 that facing Johnson when he had this type of breaking ball simply wasn't fair.
Cal Ripken had the first hit, a blooper into center. Leo Gomez walked in the second inning. Manny Alexander had a broken-bat hit to center. Hoiles lined a single in the fourth, the best Orioles' contact of the night.
Johnson struck out one in each of the first four innings, whiffed the side in the bottom of the fifth. One strikeout in the sixth, one in the seventh, a total of nine going into the ninth.
Orioles rookie Curtis Goodwin led off the ninth. He had struck out three times already, swinging unsuccessfully at the slider, looking terrible. Finally, in this last at-bat, Goodwin had learned -- look for the slider on two strikes.
But this time, Johnson threw a fastball, a high fastball, and by the time Goodwin twitched to begin his swing, the ball was sunk deep into the mitt of Mariners catcher Dan Wilson.
Kevin Bass took a called strike three, the last pitch, a fastball, at 96 mph. The game ended with Ripken looking at strike three.
Awesome. From the time that Alexander singled to start the third, Johnson faced a minimum of hitters, 21 outs from the next 21 hitters. He threw 140 pitches, 91 for strikes.
McDonald was almost as good, cruising through the first five innings.
The Mariners got the only runs they would need in the sixth inning. McDonald got two quick outs, the second when Ripken gloved a grounder headed for center field and spun 270 degrees and threw to first to nip Alex Diaz.
But Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez, assuming the No. 3 hole in the Seattle batting order in the absence of Ken Griffey, hit a single to left. McDonald wasn't in any imminent danger, but Hoiles ambled to the mound to talk.
Hoiles and McDonald both knew that the next two hitters, Buhner and Tino Martinez, had hit McDonald well in the past.
Pitching around Buhner would be one possibility, but then they would be putting the potential lead run in scoring position. And on top of the that, Martinez has been hot in recent days, hitting .421 in his last four games.
So McDonald went after Buhner. After throwing a ball with his first pitch, McDonald came back with a low fastball. Not a terrible pitch, if Buhner wasn't such a good hitter; the ball was over the middle of the plate, and Buhner crushed it some 20 rows back into the left-field stands. In this duel with Johnson, McDonald had flinched first, though he wound up with a very respectable five-hitter, striking out six.
The Mariners had a chance to add a third run in the inning. On a fly ball to left-center, left fielder Bass and center fielder Goodwin closed on the ball simultaneously, and at the last second there was confusion; Goodwin reached out to make a catch, and so did Bass, the ball glancing off Bass and then Goodwin before falling. McDonald ended the inning himself, however, fielding a chopper back through the middle and throwing out Darren Bragg.
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Mariners' Dave Fleming (1-3, 5.65) vs. Orioles' Jamie Moyer (0-1, 4.80)
Tickets: 13,400 remain