BOSTON -- As the Orioles continue to explore trade possibilities for another starting pitcher, Doug Johns gave them another reason last night to take one final swing through their own clubhouse before going elsewhere.
With his fourth consecutive uplifting effort, Johns, a refugee from the Italian professional leagues, combined with Arthur Rhodes to shut out the Boston Red Sox, 3-0, before a Fenway Park crowd of 31,355.
The pitching-and-defense win contrasted with a recent trend that saw 30 runs in four games bring the Orioles only two wins. The Orioles have won three straight and eight of 11 games to pull within two games of .500 for the first time since May 17. It marked the first time the Red Sox have been shut out this season.
Johns' effort contrasted the last four games in which the Orioles had surrendered 36 runs. The Red Sox placed only one leadoff hitter on base and never pushed a runner to third.
"Without Jimmy Key, we don't have a left-hander in the rotation," said pitching coach MIke Flanagan. "With what he has done, he has earned the right to continue to start.
"We've pitched him under circumstances when he's known he has to pitch deep into games. And he's responded under pressure. I couldn't be more proud of him. He gets better every time he goes out there."
Johns (2-1) carried a no-hitter for five innings before center fielder Damon Buford led off the sixth with a clean single to left field. The Red Sox didn't push a runner into scoring position until Mo Vaughn's two-out double in the seventh. Johnson didn't allow more than a single baserunner in any of his first seven innings.
The win continued a remarkable turnaround for a pitcher who last month found sleep impossible. In his last four starts Johns has allowed four earned runs and only five walks in 24 2/3 innings (1.46 ERA).
Johns' season continues as one of extremes. He landed on the disabled list retroactive to May 3 because of insomnia. The club placed him in its employee assistance program, and he turned to a local psychologist for help. Gradually he found sleep in increments of three, then four hours. Now he finds it in doses of six hours.
When the club reactived him May 18, it had little idea what Johns could offer. He started May 19 against the New York Yankees -- his first major-league start since July 14, 1996, with the Oakland Athletics -- but saw his positive five-inning outing glossed over by an eighth-inning fight that coincided with the disappearance of his 5-1 lead.
Johns returned to push the Orioles toward a 2-1 win over the A's on May 24. He gave them seven innings without a walk but was deprived of a decision.
Finally, Johnson found justice against the Texas Rangers last Thursday. Going 5 1/3 innings, he allowed two runs to gain the decision in a 6-3 win.
He preserved the momentum last night against a team the Orioles must catch in order to have a chance at the American League wild card. The Red Sox were 10-1 at Fenway against left-handed starters and entered on a four-game win streak.
Johns quickly set a rapid tempo. He retired the first seven hitters he faced before walking second baseman Lou Merloni. The mistake was erased on a 1-6-3 double play.
The night never went smoothly for the Red Sox. Third baseman John Valentin and manager Jim Williams were ejected in the fourth inning after the player argued balls and strikes with plate umpire Tim Welke.
The Orioles reached Red Sox left-hander Derek Lowe (0-5) for the lead in the fourth inning. Making his fifth straight start, right fielder Eric Davis singled and was replaced by Harold Baines on a fielder's choice. Baines motored to third on Rafael Palmeiro's single. Roberto Alomar extended a run of brilliant offense with a sacrifice fly into the left-field corner.
Checked on three singles through five innings, the Orioles doubled the output during a two-run sixth. With one out, Brady Anderson walked and then scored on Davis' double to the left-center-field wall. Palmeiro pushed the lead to 3-0 with a two-out single that gave him nine hits in his last 14 at-bats.
While the game ended a string of seven games in which the Orioles managed 11 hits or more, it extended a positive run.
With Mike Mussina due off the disabled list Saturday, the Orioles can point to Johns as providing them a semblance of consistency from the No. 4 starter spot. He would fail to get through the eighth inning but managed his longest outing since Aug. 3, 1996. Johns needed 97 pitches to clear 7 1/3 innings.
The Red Sox produced their first threat against him with one out in the eighth. Buford singled off the left-field wall and advanced on another single by Merloni. Orioles manager Ray Miller called upon Arthur Rhodes to close the rally.
Rhodes began the day being examined for a damaged spleen, the result of being hit in the upper abdomen by Ken Griffey's line drive Tuesday afternoon. Tests were negative, which was enough for Miller to call upon the left-hander for a second straight game.
Rhodes escaped by striking out catcher Jason Varitek, then getting Darren Lewis to ground out.
Rather than lift Rhodes, Miller sent him out to face the heart of the Red Sox's order in the ninth and was rewarded with the left-hander's second save this season.
Opponent: Boston Red Sox
Site: Fenway Park, Boston
Time: 7: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Sidney Ponson (0-2, 6.92) vs. Red Sox's Bret Saberhagen (6-3, 5.73)
Last night's shutout of the Red Sox was the Orioles' fifth of the season. A breakdown:
Date Score Pitcher(s) ... IP ... H
4/11 at Det./ Mussina .... 8 ... 2
.... 2-0 Benitez ......... 1 ... 0
5/3 Min./ Mussina ........ 7 2/3 .. 2
.... 2-0 Rhodes .......... 1 1/3 .. 1
5/9 at T.B./ Mussina ..... 9 ... 5
5/11 at Min./ Erickson ... 9 ... 5
6/3 at Bos./ Johns ....... 7 1/3 .. 4
.... 3-0 Rhodes .......... 1 2/3 .. 1
Pub Date: 6/04/98