DETROIT - First came the sigh of relief, so strong that the flags moved in center field. The Orioles had a game to play last night, and they did it knowing that their starting second baseman wasn't seriously hurt, that they most likely would be short-handed for only one series.
They could feel good for a few hours, until noticing that former teammate Jason Johnson brought his best stuff to the mound. And that Detroit Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, playing with a hairline fracture in his right hand and about 30 fewer pounds than last season, still could swing the bat with authority.
The remaining sighs were born of frustration.
Rodriguez, who took a foul tip off his hand earlier this week, homered to tie the game in the fifth and drove in the go-ahead run in the seventh with a double as Johnson defeated the Orioles for the second time in two starts, 5-3, at Comerica Park.
Johnson scattered six hits, two of them coming after the third, and is 3-0 against the Orioles this season. He retired 13 in a row before walking Melvin Mora and allowing a single to Miguel Tejada to begin the ninth. He left to a standing ovation.
"He's getting a lot of movement on his ball," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "And I know the first few innings here, it's hard to see the ball. But he's throwing strikes."
The Orioles loaded the bases with none out in the ninth, and Mora raced home when Tigers left fielder Rondell White ran down Rafael Palmeiro's fly ball near the line. Jay Gibbons delivered a run-scoring single off reliever Kyle Farnsworth with two outs after the Tigers failed to turn a double play, but Chris Gomez struck out, leaving the Orioles' lead in the American League East at two games after the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Looking to avenge the Tigers' three-game sweep in Baltimore last weekend, the Orioles needed to cool off Johnson (4-4), who became the first Detroit pitcher to go eight innings or more in five straight starts since Jeff Robinson in 1988.
"I'm just real relaxed and comfortable on the mound," he said.
The day held such promise for the Orioles (32-22), who felt rejuvenated after learning that Brian Roberts would rejoin them last night. A magnetic resonance imaging test in Baltimore didn't show any damage to his right shoulder, instead confirming that he had a muscular strain of his rotator cuff. The American League's leading hitter is taking medication and could be available to pinch-run in this series, with a return to the lineup possible when the Orioles visit Pittsburgh on Monday.
"I talked to Brian today and he said it felt better, so we're going to try two days of inactivity and treatments and see where we are. Just kind of go day-to-day," head trainer Richie Bancells said.
"We know there's nothing more to it than we suspected. That's why we did that, just to confirm it. That was good news."
Mazzilli was braced for the worst, "and something good came out of it," he said.
"It could be as early as Monday. He's going to have to go out there and see. We're obviously not going to push him to the limit where he's going to get set back a couple weeks. We don't want to do that. At least we know that, right now, he's not a [disabled list] candidate, so that's good."
Said Roberts, who arrived in the eighth inning: "The shoulder's feeling better than it did yesterday, and hopefully I'm going in the right direction."
Left-hander Bruce Chen held the Tigers to five hits over 6 1/3 innings, but the last two batters he faced reached base as the Tigers took the lead against him in the seventh and ended his night.
Rodriguez hit a bases-empty homer in the fifth that tied the game at 1, but he represented the Tigers' only base runner in a stretch when Chen retired 11 of 12. White blooped a single into right field in the seventh to extend his hitting streak to 19 games, and Rodriguez followed with a double to right-center field.
Todd Williams replaced Chen and allowed only his second inherited runner to score this season, along with two of his own, on singles by Chris Shelton, Tony Giarratano and Brandon Inge.
The Tigers have batted around three times this week, all in the seventh inning.
"One run, you've got to get out of that," Mazzilli said. "You don't realize until you get into a rally [in the ninth] that the runs you gave up were big."
Chen (5-3) has permitted more than four earned runs in only one start this season, on April 19 against the Boston Red Sox, and more than three runs only twice. He was charged with three last night.
"I tried to do my best and help this team win," Chen said. "Sometimes things don't happen."
The Orioles took a 1-0 lead in the third on consecutive singles by Newhan and Mora, the latter a run-scoring bunt that didn't draw a throw, and a costly throwing error by Johnson. But the Tigers would pass them, change their mood and make Roberts' return the last good feeling the Orioles would experience.
Opponent: Detroit Tigers
Site, time: Comerica Park, Detroit, 7:05
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez (4-2, 3.91) vs. Tigers' Wilfredo Ledezma (2-4, 6.75)