Orioles 5, Blue Jays 6: The Jim Johnson nightmare continues

Tom Szczerbowski

Jim Johnson blew his fourth save in his last six appearances and the Orioles went 4-18 with RISP in a frustrating loss.

What do you call a game where the Orioles get 14 hits and score five runs and lose? Can you even encapsulate the feelings of helplessness and rage in a pithy word or phrase? There are losses and there are losses, and today's four-run ninth-inning meltdown by Jim Johnson was a 6-5 LOSS.

This is not the way they drew up the 2013 Orioles season, but this is the way it is going. They score plenty of runs, although when the home run ball isn't happening, even that much can be a struggle. The Blue Jays gave up 14 hits to the Orioles, issued five walks (including three intentional walks to Chris Davis, who doubled in his first at-bat and scared them), and still the O's scored only the five runs.

That is a 4-18 with runners in scoring position on the day, with Matt Wieters being the only Oriole who got an RBI with RISP without actually making an out. He did this twice, with a pair of doubles, one in the second and one in the ninth, that combined to score three runs.

The time is not yet for the rage to subside. This is the picture of Johnson's ninth: he entered the game with a three-run lead. This is supposed to be the easiest of saves. This is supposed to be a save so easy that even Kevin Gregg could manage it without getting you too worried. You can be a closer, have a terrible day and give up two runs, and still record a save. That's how the save rule works. You can have an ERA on the day of 18.00 and get a save. Johnson could not even manage this.

Johnson threw 37 pitches to seven batters and only retired two of them. The winning run came up to the plate for the first time with no men out. He walked Anthony Gose to load the bases. That's not the guy you walk! But he did this. He gave up four hits and a walk in 0.2 IP, getting torched for four runs, capped off by Munenori Kawasaki hitting the most perfectly-placed gap double you will ever see to score the tying and winning runs on the same play. That would be the same Kawasaki who is batting .247/.345/.320. Johnson gave up the game-losing hit to a guy slugging .320.

In his last six games, Johnson has allowed 12 ER while only pitching five innings. For comparison, there have been three seasons where Mariano Rivera threw at least 60 IP and allowed 12 ER or less for the entire season. In those games, Johnson has been responsible for four blown saves. He got a save and was credited with the win in the two games where he did not allow runs, but does that make you feel any better? It doesn't make me feel any better.

Are the Orioles at a crisis point with the closer situation? Manager Buck Showalter shows a lot of faith in his players until he absolutely cannot. He gave Pedro Strop multiple chances last season to get right, even when it kept burning him, and has done the same at times this season, though Strop has finally made his way out of the high-leverage innings, most of the time. It may be the point to make that hard decision about Johnson. The fact that he saved 51 games last year no longer matters. He's blown more saves by Memorial Day this year than he blew all of last season. This year's incarnation of the Orioles cannot absorb those struggles in key situations.

ERA is not, by any stretch, the best way to measure any pitcher, or even a closer. However, when it is Memorial Day weekend and your closer has a 5.25 ERA, you have a problem. That is what the Orioles face. Can they keep sending Johnson out there, not knowing when he will be right? The last week has shown that this can happen at any time, could potentially keep happening. With a largely-unpleasant starting rotation situation, the O's needed the bullpen to be lockdown again, and most of last year's star performers just aren't doing it at that level this year. It is a serious problem.

All of this spoiled what ought to have been a nice day. Miguel Gonzalez didn't have the greatest of outings, but against this Blue Jays lineup, in Toronto, giving up only one run in 5.2 IP is not a bad day at all. He looks like he has returned a bit to the form of last year. That is one encouraging sign, along with striking out seven hitters. Three walks were not great, but there's always next time.

Offensively, there was the RISP frustration, but individual Orioles had outstanding days. Wieters led the pack with a 4-5 day that included two doubles and three RBI. Adam Jones went 3-5 with a double and his 10th home run of the year. He hit a home run in every game of the four-game series. Manny Machado had another multi-hit game, which is becoming part of the Orioles routine.

On this particular day, none of that matters, because Johnson could not get three outs before Toronto scored three runs. The O's had a prime opportunity to gain a game on New York, and keep pace with Boston (who pulled a win out of their hat with their own four-run bottom of the ninth), and with Johnson being the prime culprit and the RISP woes being the accomplice, they could not manage to do this.

The road does not get any easier now. They are heading to the land that was once part of Maryland, where perhaps they will initiate the reclamation process by taking two games from the Nationals before returning to Baltimore and taking two more. Jason Hammel takes on Gio Gonzalez in the opener on Monday at 1:05.

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