August 8, 1989. That's the day that 29-year-old Dave Johnson, summoned from AAA Rochester as a fill-in starter a week earlier, realized several firsts in his career: First start in Memorial Stadium, in his hometown of Baltimore. First major league complete game. First major league win. The righthander scattered eight hits and four walks and came out on top in a 6-1 Orioles win over Rick Aguilera and the Twins. Johnson struck out only three batters, but he did induce double-play grounders against Kirby Puckett and Brian Harper, as those two formidable Minnesota batters took a combined 0-for-8 collar. The Twins were 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, whereas the opportunistic Birds went 3-for-7. The crucial win improved the O's to 58-53 and helped them maintain a two-game lead over second-place Toronto in the tightly packed American League East.
In a delicious bit of cosmic alignment, Dave's son Steve is being called upon as the Orioles' emergency starter tonight at Camden Yards. Though he debuted in Baltimore with a two-inning relief outing on July 15, the 24-year-old rookie will be making his first big league start in Charm City against Kevin Millwood and the Mariners. His promotion was necessitated by last night's marathon 14-inning win, the 12th straight in extra frames for the absurdly resilient and fortunate O's. Tonight's scheduled starter Tommy Hunter was not used, but did warm up in the 14th in the likely event that he'd be needed. That's how we've arrived at a landmark moment for Steve Johnson, whose hometown team looks to keep pace in the tightly-packed American League wild card race after pulling into a three-way tie with the Athletics and Angels early this morning.
I've given up worrying about the return to Earth. It may still come. But with every weird bounce of the ball, every heroic play by a replacement-level guy, every nail-biting and run-differential-confounding win, this season gets funnier and more delightful. I'm trying not to lose sight of that. All that I can do is laugh.