By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
BALTIMORE — As omens go, rookie Steve Johnson striking out the Seattle side in the first inning — on 12 pitches, all strikes — carried some weight Wednesday.
Kevin Millwood watched that, tried to pitch around a defense that didn’t help him, but wound up taking the loss as the Baltimore Orioles pounded the Mariners, 9-2, giving a Johnson his first win.
Even Millwood could appreciate the history.
Johnson’s win came 23 years to the day after his father, Dave Johnson, won his first big-league game with Baltimore.
OK, so maybe Millwood didn’t appreciate it.
“It’s not fun stinking,” Millwood said. “We played well in New York and got beat a couple of times. We didn’t really play well here at all.”
A struggling Mariners team that’s now 1-5 on this nine-game trip not only didn’t score until the sixth inning — when it was 7-0 — they played an all-around poor game.
With two outs in the first inning, Millwood got a fly ball from Matt Wieters that right fielder Eric Thames ran down only to have it glance off his glove for a two-run double.
Two innings later, Thames got tangled in the right field corner long enough for Nick Markakis to get credit for a triple. When Millwood got a ground ball to third baseman Kyle Seager, Seager uncharacteristically whiffed it.
Base hit, RBI.
It’s why pitchers who play for poor defensive teams hate earned-run average as a statistic. Not all earned runs are.
By the time Millwood left after four innings, he’d given up his share of runs, seven in all. That put Seattle in a hole its offense had no answer for.
“We’ve been a good defensive club all year but we weren’t one tonight,” manager Eric Wedge said. “Four or five things happened tonight that can’t happen.
“We’ve got a couple of new guys and we’re seeing what they can do…”
Seager’s 13th home run in the sixth made a dent, but beyond pushing his RBI total to 68, it had little impact. The third baseman had three hits, raising his average above .250 (.252).
That was half of Seattle’s output.
The Mariners had chances to do damage but, as with those defensive plays, didn’t. In the second inning, for instance, down 2-0, they loaded the bases with one out.
Munenori Kawasaki tried a drag bunt but the ball went directly to Johnson on the mound, who got a force at the plate. Dustin Ackley popped out to end the threat.
Did that bunt come from the bench? It did not.
“We don’t want that in that situation,” Wedge said. “I told him, ‘Don’t do that!’”
As frustrating, Wedge said, as the Mariners approach at home plate against that rookie right-hander.
“Johnson threw a good game, he used his fastball early and then went to other pitches,” Wedge said. “We’ve got to recognize that, adjust. We didn’t.”
Catcher John Jaso plead guilty, going 1-for-3.
“He was a sneaky 88 mph,” Jaso said. “We got ourselves out a lot tonight. I know my first at-bat, I struck out. I saw one strike and swung at two balls out of the strike zone.
“That happens when you try to do too much.”
And what about Millwood?
“They got some good pitches to hit and they didn’t miss them,” Jaso said of the Orioles. “They didn’t foul them off. That’s what winning ball clubs do — they don’t miss pitches they should hit.”
Which says much about the Mariners.
During a seven-game winning streak, they hit well, scored in bunches. Since then?
“The bats are an issue,” Wedge said.
About the only bright spot, other than Seager and Jesus Montero (two hits), was the Seattle bullpen — particularly two innings worked by rookie right-hander Carter Capps.
Against New York, he lasted a third of an inning and allowed two runs.
“This time, I was more relaxed,” Capps said.
It showed in command, but the velocity remained — Capps hit 100 mph three times and was 98-99 throughout. He even showed off a changeup, which — at 90 mph — was harder than Johnson’s fastball.
Yet Johnson won.
“He did something tonight I never did in my career, he beat Seattle,” said Johnson’s father. “I could never get Ken Griffey Jr. out.”
Sure enough, Junior was 7-for-14 with a home run against the elder Johnson.
Oh, and there’s one last note on Johnson that Mariners fans might consider an omen. He was acquired by Baltimore from the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for reliever George Sherrill.
Yes, the same Sherrill the Orioles picked up — along with Adam Jones and Chris Tillman — in the Erik Bedard trade.