Scott Erickson is the Minnesota Twins' pitching ace, but he is no Superman, and after the Orioles had chased him into the clubhouse in the fifth inning, he seemed almost too human.
"I had a bad inning and it is so frustrating," said Erickson. "I knew what I had to do. I knew [Mike] Mussina would pitch well and I knew this should be a low-scoring game. My arm felt good and I made some pretty good pitches, but I got the ball up and I know I just can't do that and get away with it."
Unless, of course, your team is running away with first place in the American League West. Then, everyone takes a loss like this in stride.
It was just one inning. One pitch, really, to Leo Gomez in the fourth inning with the bases loaded that opened the door to a 4-0 Orioles lead. "The count was 0-2 and I threw what I thought was a good pitch, right into his power area," said Erickson. "He hit it for a double. It was a bad pitch. It was a lack of concentration on my part."
When Erickson gave up another hit to Joe Orsulak in the fifth, intentionally walked Cal Ripken and then got in trouble against Glenn Davis, Twins manager Tom Kelly had seen enough.
It's almost been the norm since Erickson came off the disabled list July 15.
Before straining his right elbow in late June, the 23-year-old righthander was lighting up the major leagues.
His 12 consecutive victories between April 21 and June 24 is a club record and the longest in the majors this season.
Since coming off the DL, Erickson (16-6, 2.96 ERA) is 4-3 with a 7.49 ERA in nine starts.
"I'm not worried about him," insisted Kelly. "It looks like Scott is throwing the ball fine. Scottie pitched superlatives the first half of the season. No one is expected to pitch that way throughout the whole season . . . We just want him to go out and throw the ball aggressively and challenge the hitters and he did that today."
At least for the most part. Kelly noticed Erickson left the ball up "in the zone" to Orsulak, who hit a bullet to left, then "hung a breaking ball" on a 3-2 pitch to Davis, who cracked one to leftfield with Ripken running. Then he had Gomez 0-2 "and he threw him too good a pitch . . . just a mistake-type pitch" that Gomez drilled to left-center.
"He made a few mistakes," said Kelly. "He's a young guy. You've got to remember he has only one year in the big leagues. He hung pitches, he threw up in the strike zone and he got hammered."
Veteran pitcher Jack Morris watched Erickson's performance from the bullpen.
"From what I saw," said Morris, "he got a couple guys on base in the fourth and then went at them too quickly, instead of slowing down and concentrating on what he was doing . . . That's going to happen. Earlier in the season, he was able to slow down and regroup a little bit. That's part of the learning process. You can't be perfect every time out. Adversity is part of the game . . . You keep persevering, keep your chin off the ground and hope next time is better."
Erickson's chin was up yesterday. His elbow, he said, is not a factor. Only location and concentration are.
"As I think about it now, I probably threw more quickly than I should have," Erickson said. "Bad pitches come from a lack of concentration. That's all it is. I felt comfortable out there. I'm not going to say the early part of this season was just lucky. I don't have any doubts about my ability. I do expect to be a lot better than I've been of late."