The best part of today's game came in the 8th inning when just-called-up Steve Johnson came in for his major-league debut. Not that ML debuts are rare, but the camera kept showing Steve's father, Dave Johnson, in the stands. You might know Dave Johnson from his work on MASN and WBAL or, if you're my age or older, as a mediocre starting pitcher for the Orioles from 1989-1991. Dave Johnson is a local Baltimore guy who got to pitch for a few years for his hometown team, and today he watched his son, also a local Baltimore guy, make his debut for his hometown team. When Steve Johnson came into the game, Dave Johnson looked nervous as he watched. Then, as the younger Johnson struck out Don Kelly and Austin Jackson back-to-back to end the inning, the older Johnson's face changed from nervous to gleeful as he cheered his son. It got me a little emotional, I won't lie.
Of course, if that was the best part of today's game, that also says something about how the Orioles played otherwise. Tigers starter Justin Verlander was, well Justin Verlander today. He pitched eight shutout innings and gave up just three hits (two of which were to Jim Thome). He allowed more than one baserunner an inning just once, in the first. Thome singled and Adam Jones walked with two outs and were stranded. He was perfect in the fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth innings. He struck out eight, three of which were Wilson Betemit. He looked strong enough to finish the game, but with 117 pitches Jim Leyland gave him the ninth inning off. Jose Valverde closed out the game, giving up a single to Thome in a scoreless inning.
For the Orioles it was Miguel Gonzalez making his second start and he wasn't as good as he was in debut, not that many people expected he would be. His results weren't awful as he gave up three runs in 5 2/3 innings, just one out away from the so-called quality start. But he walked five batters, which is terrible. Surprisingly, only one came around to score.
Austin Jackson led off the game against Gonzalez with a home run, and they could have just ended the ballgame right there since the Orioles didn't have any interest in scoring today. But that's not how it works, so Gonzalez continued. In the second inning Brennan Boesch led off with a double and scored on a single from Jhonny Peralta.
Gonzalez faced just three batters each in the third and fourth innings, and worked around a double and a walk for a scoreless fifth. But in the sixth inning he found himself in trouble again. He retired Miguel Cabrera on a ground out leading off, but then walked Prince Fielder and gave up singles to Boesch and Alex Avila, the second of which knocked in Fielder for the Tigers third run of the day. On the play second baseman Robert Andino made a diving try for the play and injured his left shoulder. There's no word on how serious it is but he'll have an MRI on it tomorrow. In any case, I'm getting ready to see a lot of Ryan Flaherty.
After the RBI single, Gonzalez walked Ramon Santiago and was removed from the game with the bases loaded. Luis Ayala, the only reliever who didn't pitch in yesterday's marathon game (other than Steve Johnson, who wasn't on the roster at the time) came in and miraculously didn't allow any of the inherited runners to score. In fact, he pitched a scoreless seventh inning as well, although he did give up two singles.
As already mentioned Steve Johnson came in to pitch the eighth. He walked the first two batters he faced and while some of it was no doubt nerves, it also looked like he was being squeezed. But he came back to retired the next three batters, two on strikeouts. He finished the game for the Orioles in the 9th, giving up a homer to Miguel Cabrera. It would have been nice if he'd had a scoreless debut, but better pitchers than him have given up homers to Miguel Cabrera, and it's not like that was the hit that kept the Orioles from winning,
After the game, Johnson was demoted back to AAA, ostensibly to make room for Chris Tillman, who will start tomorrow against the Twins. Maybe we'll see Steve back later this season, maybe not. But no matter what happens, he'll always have two more major-league strikeouts than I do.