“The 29-year-old right-hander gave a performance that epitomized this entire Orioles season.”
The Washington Post
Oct. 1, 1989
Dave Johnson’s emotional on-air moment after finding out that his son, Steve Johnson, had become an Oriole was, as Steve Melewski writes, “just special, no other way to describe it.” It was a perfect antidote to the renewed cynicism generated by the other big baseball news of the day out of Boston.
O’s fans hope that Steve Johnson will produce some memorable moments in his home town. This week’s Flashback Friday looks at one of his father’s most memorable moments as an Oriole — a seven inning, two-hit, two-run performance against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 30, 1989 that kept the Birds’ fading pennant hopes alive, if only briefly.
The Orioles lost to the Blue Jays 4-3 on Sept. 30, thereby ending their “Why Not?” pennant chase on the heels of a 107-loss 1988 season. However, as The Washington Post’s Tom Boswell said of Johnson the following day, “The 29-year-old right-hander gave a performance that epitomized this entire Orioles season.”
Johnson – “the aged rookie, the hometown journeyman, the career scuffler who drives an 18-wheeler in the offseason and still lives in a mobile home” – was called into duty three hours before game time with the Orioles staring down a one-and-done scenario with their post-season hopes. Starter Pete Harnisch was scratched from the start after stepping on a nail while walking back to the team hotel the night before.
Though he had posted an 0-5 mark in his previous seven starts, Johnson rose to the occasion in front of 49,553 fans at SkyDome and a national television audience, providing the O’s with a chance to extend their season for one more game.
He walked three, struck out none, and relied heavily on the outfield defense of Phil Bradley, Mike Devereaux, and Stanley Jefferson; nevertheless, Johnson left the game with the O’s leading 3-1 after facing one batter in the eighth inning. However, the bullpen failed to hold the lead.
From The Post:
Like the Orioles’ whole dream of a worst-to-first season, this fantasy was too attenuated to stand scrutiny. Johnson walked the leadoff man in the Toronto eighth. Reliever Kevin Hickey walked the next man. On came Williamson. After a sacrifice, the Blue Jays showed their mettle as Mookie Wilson and McGriff delivered RBI singles and Bell brought in the deciding run with a sacrifice fly.
“It was real disappointing sitting there watching the walls crumble,” said Johnson, who somehow rediscovered his confidence despite entering the game with an 0-5 record in his previous seven starts.
“These last two games were like the scenario of the whole season,” said the veteran Bradley. “We got ahead and they caught us.”
Matt Taylor is author of the popular Baltimore Orioles’ sports blog Roar from 34 and is a regular contributor to Baltimore Sports Then and Now.