Erickson in complete control in O's 8-1 win

September 16, 1995|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,Sun Staff Writer

Back in April, the only time the Orioles have been in serious contention for the AL East title this year, they envisioned playing as they did last night. Great pitching. Timely hitting. Solid defense.

Scott Erickson threw a complete game and Rafael Palmeiro hit a three-run homer and Bobby Bonilla a grand slam, as the Orioles beat the New York Yankees, 8-1, before 47,436 at Camden Yards.

For the Orioles, though, having been eliminated, the victory serves no practical purpose beyond damaging New York's chances of making the playoffs; the Yankees fell a game behind the Seattle Mariners in the AL wild-card race.

"This is the way I thought it would be," said Palmeiro. "This is the way I thought we would play all year."

They've played games like this all year, but they've been interspersed with too many weak offensive performances, too many three- and four-inning starts by their pitchers.

Now the Orioles are left to plan for 1996, and Erickson is making a strong case for himself. With $26.5 million already committed to six players for 1996, the Orioles likely will attempt to make salary reductions elsewhere. Ben McDonald, who makes $4.5 million this year, will likely be cut back or cut altogether. Same with Kevin Brown, his '95 salary $4.225 million. Erickson, however, is making $1.86 million this year, making him more attractive, financially, than the other two.

Chances are he'll finish the year with an ERA of over 5.00, and he has had a handful of very bad outings for the Orioles, failing to pitch into the fifth inning.

But the bottom line is that Erickson has done something that Sid Fernandez, Arthur Rhodes and McDonald could not do, something that Brown has had trouble doing since June. Win games. Although the Orioles didn't trade for Erickson until July 6, has seven wins; in little more than two months, he has one fewer victory than Jamie Moyer, who ranks second among the Orioles in wins, with eight.

Erickson said that pitching coach Mike Flanagan has improved his delivery, encouraging him to drive off his back leg toward the catcher.

"Flanagan has made a big difference," Erickson said. "They've gotten me to explode toward home, use all my energy that way."

The Orioles scored three runs for him early, and Erickson aggressively and effectively protected the lead. His only real trouble came in the sixth inning, when the Yankees filled the bases with three straight singles, one a bloop and another a broken-bat hit.

But Erickson got Mike Stanley -- who had been 9-for-10 with the bases loaded, with 26 RBIs -- to pop out to short, and Don Mattingly lined out to deep center, firing his helmet across the infield after Jarvis Brown made the catch. The latter, Erickson thought, was his biggest out of the game.

The rest was easy, Erickson picking up his fifth complete game for the Orioles. Erickson, Yankees manager Buck Showalter said, "has always had outstanding stuff. Getting him off turf and onto the grass has really helped him. Hard sinker. Hard slider. We really didn't hit a ball hard all night."

Run support is a favorite tool of agents and arbitrators, a means by which a pitcher can say that he actually was better than his won-lost record indicates. Erickson won't have that luxury this off-season, because the Orioles have scored runs in bunches when he has pitched. Eighty-one runs in 14 starts, almost six runs per outing. Against wild Yankees rookie Sterling Hitchcock, the Orioles could hardly contain themselves.

For five innings, Hitchcock threw the type of game often seen in the minor leagues -- a pitcher whose control is so bad that it actually keeps the hitters off-balance and ineffective. The Orioles acted surprised when Hitchcock threw strikes, which, in stretches, wasn't very often. Sometimes, Showalter said later, you can get away with that.

Hitchcock walked Brady Anderson in the first, walked Cal Ripken. Bonilla flied to right for the second out, but Hitchcock fell behind Palmeiro 1-0 and attempted to spin a breaking pitch over, with some pretty good bite.

But Palmeiro, a left-handed hitter, is unusual in his ability to hang in on breaking pitches from left-handed pitchers. When Hitchcock's slider broke over the plate thigh-high, Palmeiro pulled it over the scoreboard in right field, a three-run shot.

(Palmeiro's stealth season continues. His 36th home run placed him, for the moment, behind league leaders Albert Belle (39) and Mo Vaughn (38). Belle and Vaughn, of course, are under MVP consideration. Palmeiro is three RBIs away from 100.)

Hitchcock walked another before getting out of the first, and with one out in the second, he walked Bret Barberie and Jarvis Brown in succession. Showalter ran to the mound, possibly to note aloud to his pitcher that he had just given free passes to a switch-hitter batting .154 from the right side (Barberie) and a .200 hitter (Brown).

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