Jim Johnson had converted 12 straight save opportunities before last night, but he squandered a 3-2 Baltimore Orioles lead by allowing two runs in the ninth and blowing his fifth save of the season in a 4-3 defeat to the Cleveland Indians.
Baltimore had finally generated some offense in the bottom of the eighth inning and Orioles magic seemed to be alive at the Yard as the Birds scored two runs in the frame to take a 3-2 lead.
Johnson got himself into trouble in the ninth right away. He issued a four pitch walk to the very first batter he faced before allowing a double to the next batter to put runners on second and third with no outs. Manager Buck Showalter signaled to intentionally walk the next batter to load the bases and set up the double play and Johnson got the ground ball he was looking for, but it was in an odd spot and not hit hard, allowing Alexi Casilla to just get one out at second base.
Now the game was tied with runners on the corners with one out and once again Johnson got the ground ball he needed, but it was also not hit very hard and although Manny Machado did a great job of getting rid of the ball quickly as did Casilla on the turn, Drew Stubbs beat out the throw to first allowing the go ahead run to score.
"The leadoff walk, that is pretty much what led to the whole inning. Lately, that is uncharacteristic and something I need to work on," Johnson said.
"It was not a good quality pitch (to Giambi), but the whole inning started with that four-pitch walk," Johnson said. "Been walking too many guys this year and I'm not going to shy away from saying it. I need to do better with that part.
"Didn't have a feel for the strike zone and leave a ball up to Giambi on the next pitch after the four-pitch walk, now you have second and third and you have to walk the next guy. So bases loaded, nobody out, it doesn't get much worse. At that point, I am trying to limit the damage and try to worry about each individual pitch. Came real close to keeping it a tied score, but obviously I dug my own hole."
Johnson had converted 12 of his last 12 save chances before last night, and still leads the MLB with 27 saves on the season.
Orioles starting pitcher Jason Hammel (7-4) had his second quality start in a row and has seemed to have regained some of that 2012 form he showed last season. Hammel had command of all of his pitches for most of the night, which is the biggest part of his game that has noticeably improved over the last couple of starts. Unfortunately for Hammel, the one mistake he made in the strike zone got drilled over the left center field wall for a two run home run by Jason Kipnis in the fourth inning. Those were the only two runs Hammel would surrender on the night as he tossed seven strong innings while allowing the two runs on just four hits, one walk and striking out five on 108 pitches.
Machado seemed to be the hero last night until the ninth as he broke up Scott Kazmir's no-hit bid in the seventh and then knocked in the then go ahead run in the bottom of the eighth. He led the way offensively going 2-4 with a RBI and his MLB leading 36th double of the season, while Nick Markakis and Chris Davis picked up the other RBI's for the Birds.
Baltimore will look for a series split tonight as they send Miguel Gonzalez (5-3) to the mound for the start. The Orioles loss combined with a Boston Red Sox win puts the O's 3 1/2 games back in the AL East race.
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