SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Seven outstanding innings from Jason Johnson would have been wasted if Gary Matthews Jr.'s grounder went
a few inches to the left.
Matthews hit a two-run single in the eighth, and Johnson earned
his first victory since April 20 as the Baltimore Orioles ended an
exhausting 10-game road trip with a 3-1 victory Sunday over the San
Francisco Giants. Tony Batista had an RBI triple in the first inning for the
Orioles, who needed a late rally to avoid wasting a fine start by
Johnson (2-5), their oft-injured right-hander who allowed four hits
and struck out five. Matthews, who was born in San Francisco while his father played
for the Giants, provided the go-ahead runs with a gritty at-bat
against left-handed reliever Aaron Fultz. With Chris Singleton and Melvin Mora in scoring position,
Matthews -- a switch-hitter turned to his less-effective right side
against Fultz -- slapped a grounder up the middle that barely eluded
shortstop Rich Aurilia in the Giants' drawn-in infield. "This could have been a tough road trip if that didn't get
through, but we gave a solid effort against one of the best teams
in the NL,'' said Matthews, who went 2-for-4 with a double.
''(Aurilia) almost got a glove on it. That was the difference right
there.'' With the victory, Baltimore finished 5-5 on a four-city road
trip that began with a makeup game in Cleveland before sending them
to the other side of the continent to face Arizona's Curt Schilling
and Randy Johnson before a weekend date with Barry Bonds. Despite the travel and the uncertainties of interleague play,
the Orioles took two of three in their first games against the
Giants since spring training in 1959. "This was a fun series,'' Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove said.
"I'm not going to say we're the two best teams around, but I think
it was baseball at its finest. Every game came down to strategy and
big plays by the winning team.'' Johnson overwhelmed San Francisco's potent lineup, retiring the
first 12 batters he faced. He never got into trouble until the
seventh, when San Francisco tied it on Bonds' double and Jeff
Kent's RBI single. "I always feel I can get better, but I felt great today,''
Johnson said. "I went after hitters the way I wanted to. I had
great placement, and my curve had a great break on it.'' The Orioles reclaimed the lead in the eighth against Livan
Hernandez (6-8), who allowed six hits and struck out five over 7
1/3 innings. Hernandez lost for the fourth time in five starts
despite a strong outing, though he put two runners on in the eighth
before Fultz entered to pitch to Matthews. "I watched it on video, and it was a good pitch,'' Fultz said.
"I wanted a groundball, and I got it. It was the same pitch I got
him out on the day before, only this time it wasn't hit at
anybody.'' Jorge Julio pitched the ninth, earning his 15th save in 19
chances despite allowing Kent to reach third base with two outs.
Baltimore held its breath when Damon Minor's drive over the
right-field fence hooked inches foul, but Julio then struck out
Minor to end it. While the Orioles were pleased with their week, the Giants were
a disappointing 4-5 on a nine-game homestand. "We're scuffling for a lot of stuff,'' Giants manager Dusty
Baker said. "It makes it difficult to see pitchers we haven't seen
before. They've got guys who are 1-5, and they're throwing like
they're 5-1.'' In Johnson's last victory, he snapped a personal nine-game
losing streak. Against the Giants, he cruised into the seventh,
when Bonds hit a one-out double off the wall in right field. It
might have been a triple if Bonds hadn't paused at home plate to
admire his blast before running the bases. Kent, who broke up Johnson's no-hit bid with a single in the
fifth, then drove a hard shot off Batista's glove at third base.
Bonds, finally running hard, slid home with the Giants' first run. Kent had three hits to finish a homestand in which he hit .500
(18-for-36). Johnson, who faced the minimum 15 batters through five innings,
also got help from first baseman Jay Gibbons, who made two
spectacular catches on foul balls. In the second inning, he went
tumbling over a railing up the right-field line to make an
acrobatic catch of Minor's foul.
After Gibbons leaned over the dugout railing to catch Bonds'
foul pop in the fourth, Bonds slammed his bat into the ground in
frustration, cleanly breaking it at the handle.
Matthews, lived in nearby Foster City as a child, got a
rare chance this weekend to spend time with his sister, who's
working on a doctorate at Stanford. Matthews' first memories of
baseball are at his father's games at Candlestick Park. "I wish I
could have played there,'' Matthews said. ... In Johnson's previous
start on Tuesday, he pitched just four innings in a 6-3 loss to
Arizona. ... Hernandez entered the game hitting .333, but he went