BALTIMORE -- Steve Johnson is another one of the surprises in this crazy Orioles season. The Dodgers picked the Baltimore native in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, and he pitched all over the Minors until the Orioles came calling in mid-July.
Johnson started twice and came out of the bullpen eight times. His last start came on Aug. 25, and the right-hander pitched in relief four times since. But when manager Buck Showalter tapped him for the opener of Monday's doubleheader with the Blue Jays, Johnson came through again. The right-hander threw five shutout innings to help the Orioles to a 4-1 victory over Toronto at Camden Yards.
The Orioles (88-65) cut New York's American League East lead to a half-game before both teams played again on Monday night. Toronto (66-86) now has lost seven straight games, tying its longest skid of the season.
Johnson (4-0) gave up three hits in those five innings. He struck out six and walked three, often finding himself in trouble and pitching from behind in the count. Five Blue Jays had a 2-0 count on him, and they put two runners on in three of the five innings, but Johnson wriggled out of each jam.
"You've just got to bear down," Johnson said. "I had a lot of work on that last year -- walked a lot of guys, pitched out of the stretch a lot. When you do that, you have to make a pitch in here, just bear down, throw a few pitches, make sure they don't make good contact on it."
Showalter said that Johnson wasn't really that wild; it was more that he went deep into some counts. The skipper said Johnson hadn't thrown in four days, and the Orioles thought he'd be able to throw well in this game. They like how he handles himself in those tough spots.
"He's got a good presence," Showalter said. "He presents a calm front. He pitches with a lot of confidence. We thought he was the right game, and he re-paid our trust."
The Orioles helped Johnson with homers from Adam Jones -- who went 4-for-4, logging four hits for the second time this season -- and Ryan Flaherty and yet another solid performance from the bullpen, which gave up one run on five hits in four innings, striking out five without a walk.
Troy Patton (one inning), Tommy Hunter (1 2/3 innings) and Darren O'Day (one-third of an inning) combined with Jim Johnson, who came on in the ninth to record his Major League-leading 48th save.
The Blue Jays came up with a number of scoring chances but couldn't get the key hit. They went just 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position and left eight on base. They also grounded into a pair of double plays.
"Overall, I thought we gave ourselves some opportunities with a number of men on base," Blue Jays manager John Farrell said. "And yet, as we've spoken of quite a bit of late, the two-out base hit is elusive, and to sustain any kind of offense, we're missing that right now."
The Orioles actually missed on several chances of their own, but the home runs again rescued Baltimore. Jones crushed a 422-foot homer off Henderson Alvarez (9-14) in the fourth, a two-run shot that came after a Chris Davis walk for a 2-0 lead. Flaherty added his solo blast in the fifth to make it 3-0 -- with relief pitcher Luis Ayala neatly catching the ball in his cap in the bullpen -- and the Orioles got their final run when Mark Reynolds grounded into a double play with the bases loaded in the sixth.
Hunter gave up the only Blue Jays run on a Rajai Davis double in the eighth, but the right-hander threw well again, often getting his fastball up into the high 90's, while striking out three, and pleasing Showalter.
Johnson's speed isn't anywhere near Hunter's, often throwing fastballs in the high 80s and maybe the very low 90's. But Johnson's done a good job of making the good pitches he's needed, especially when starting.
His stats show that. Johnson now boasts a 3-0 record as a starter with a 2.12 ERA (four earned runs in 17 innings). Plus, he's given up two runs in a total of 11 innings in two starts against the Blue Jays.
Johnson didn't face an easy task on Monday. He hadn't started a game in about a month, and the team threw him right into the fire, asking him to make a spot start in the middle of a big pennant race.
When asked what it all felt like, the Baltimore native smiled and didn't hesitate.
"This is what you live for, pitching in the playoff race," Johnson said. "This is a lot of fun."
The Orioles certainly enjoyed it.
Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.