It was about the toughest spot possible for any reliever, never mind a 24-year-old converted starter who began the season at Triple-A Norfolk. When Jim Johnson entered the game in the seventh inning last night with the Orioles clinging tight to a two-run lead, the Boston Red Sox had the bases loaded and not outs, and none other than Manny Ramirez at the plate. Johnson never blinked.
He finalized a tense 10-pitch at-bat by getting Ramirez to hit into a double play and then retired Mike Lowell to end the inning with the Orioles' two-run lead intact. Johnson's escape was the final improbability on a night full of them for the Orioles, who secured a tense 5-4 victory over the Red Sox before an announced 38,768 at Camden Yards.
"He worked a pitching miracle, right there," said Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie of Johnson. "He didn't give in to him [Ramirez]. He executed an awful lot of pitches. ... He did stuff that I don't think any of us could have expected."
Johnson gave up a run in the eighth, and the Red Sox had runners on first and second with one out when manager Dave Trembley removed him to bring in Sherrill.
The left-hander got out of the jam and then clinched his 14th save the hard way in the ninth. He struck out David Ortiz on a 3-2 pitch, with plate umpire Laz Diaz ruling Ortiz had failed to check his swing. Ortiz was ejected arguing the play. Sherrill then retired Ramirez on a long flyout to center field and struck out Lowell to end the game.
That made a winner of Jeremy Guthrie (2-3), who pitched six gritty innings, rebounding from a three-run first that included two Orioles errors. Guthrie allowed three runs - two earned - on eight hits and a walk and struck out seven.
His counterpart, Beckett, lasted just 5 2/3 innings, surrendering five earned runs on 11 hits.
It was Scott, the designated hitter last night, who had the key drive, sending his three-run shot deep into the right-field seats.
"I'll tell you man, that feeling, there's nothing like it," Scott said. "There really isn't. It's the greatest high that you can have. It's really special. That's what makes this game so worth it, moments like that." It was the second home run of the season and first since April 8 for Scott, who had been in a 7-for-55 slump entering the game. He finished 3-for-4 and scored two runs. Kevin Millar and Jay Payton also connected for RBI singles off Beckett (4-3).
Exactly a year ago yesterday, Guthrie had what was considered his breakthrough performance as he took a three-hit shutout bid into the ninth inning against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. He was removed from the game by former manager Sam Perlozzo after Hernandez's one out-error, and the Red Sox scored six runs against the Orioles' bullpen, dealing the Orioles a crushing loss.
This time, the Red Sox jumped on Guthrie immediately, scoring three times in the first inning with the help of two Orioles errors. With runners on first and third and the Red Sox already leading 1-0, Mike Lowell hit a potential double play ball to third baseman Aubrey Huff. But the ball hit off the glove of Huff, a late addition to the starting lineup, to give Boston a 2-0 lead.
Two batters later, J.D. Drew hit a grounder to first baseman Kevin Millar, but the ball rolled through his legs to score another run.
The Orioles hit three straight singles with two outs in the second inning, the last by Jay Payton, putting the Orioles on the board.