Victory again falls beyond Orioles' grasp Field lapses pave way for Ranger's 5th win in row, over O's 4-2

Erickson blasts defense

Misplays key 3-run 8th

Anderson ties HR mark

April 28, 1996|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,SUN STAFF

Call the police. Johnny Oates and Doug Melvin have stolen the Orioles' trademark defense and moved it to Texas.

The Rangers looked like Orioles South yesterday, using some nifty defensive plays to pull out a 4-2 victory before 47,311, the largest crowd of the season at Camden Yards.

The Orioles' defense, meanwhile, deserted them, especially during the Rangers' three-run eighth inning.

Orioles starter Scott Erickson, pitching more than six innings for the first time this season, allowed four runs in 7 2/3 innings but only one was earned. Erickson, who also allowed nine hits and four walks, was the losing pitcher.

"I could easily be 4-0 if our defense played good," said Erickson (1-2), who has allowed six unearned runs in his past three starts. "The last three games we definitely should have won if we played solid defense."

Erickson didn't mention any specific plays during yesterday's game, but a two-out grounder went through first baseman Rafael Palmeiro's legs in the fateful eighth and several balls were not caught in the outfield.

"I have lost three starts in a row because of defense," said Erickson, who referred to misplays April 17 against Boston and an unearned run April 22 against Cleveland.

The Orioles, who started the season 11-2, have lost eight of their past 10 games. They are still in first place by one game because the New York Yankees lost, 8-6, to Minnesota yesterday.

But the Orioles have two games left in this series against the Rangers, who have beaten them in all five meetings this season, outscoring them 52-22 and playing better defense.

Call it the curse of Oates and Melvin.

Yesterday it was Palmeiro who seemed snakebit.

With the game tied at 1 in the eighth, Mickey Tettleton hit a one-out double to right-center and Erickson struck out Dean Palmer.

Then Rusty Greer rocketed a grounder at Palmeiro, and the ball went through his legs.

If Palmeiro had knocked the ball down, it might have prevented Tettleton from scoring. If he had made the play, it would have ended the inning with the score still tied.

"I tried to catch it, keep it in front of me," said Palmeiro, who has made four errors in 23 games, the same number he made in 143 games last season. "I just came up too soon."

After Greer's grounder, Erickson intentionally walked Mark McLemore, then Bobby Bonilla couldn't catch up to Kevin

Elster's two-run double to right.

Bonilla also failed to catch Darryl Hamilton's first-inning triple. Hamilton, who would score on Ivan Rodriguez's double to left, hit the game's first pitch over Bonilla's head, the ball landing on the warning track beyond Bonilla's outstretched glove.

"If I should have had them, then they would have been caught," said Bonilla, who was moved yesterday from designated hitter to the outfield by manager Davey Johnson to help the slumping slugger better focus at the plate.

Johnson backed up his erstwhile DH on those hits: "Both of them were hit pretty hard."

Historically, the Orioles have been a terrific defensive team, winning the second-most Gold Gloves of any team and producing three of the best defensive seasons ('89, '91 and '92) in baseball history.

Good defense is part of the Oriole Way, and Oates and Melvin, former members of the Baltimore organization, have adopted it in Texas.

The Rangers currently are tied for the league lead with a .989 fielding percentage, with a club-record nine-game errorless streak coming to an end Friday.

"The thing I'm proud about is our guys are really starting to take pride in our defense," said Oates.

Yesterday the Rangers' defense helped starter Bobby Witt and reliever Ed Vosberg limit the Orioles to four hits by making several spectacular plays.

McLemore, a former Orioles second baseman, threw out Cal Ripken in the second inning, ranging to his right and throwing across his body. First baseman Will Clark made several nice plays.

Greer made a diving catch on Jeffrey Hammonds' liner to left field in the fifth inning, and right fielder Juan Gonzalez made a similar play on Roberto Alomar's fly ball in the sixth.

Those type of defensive efforts delighted Witt (3-1). Yesterday's winning pitcher told his teammates, "If you guys keep playing like that when I'm pitching, I promise one of you is going to win an ESPY [award]."

The lone offensive bright spot for the Orioles was Brady Anderson.

After manufacturing the team's initial run in the first inning with a walk and steal, Anderson hit a bases-empty homer in the eighth to tie the Orioles' April record of 10 homers held by Frank Robinson.

Anderson's ball was crushed, landing on Eutaw Street (the seventh ball ever hit there) and bouncing up against the warehouse.

"It does mean something to me," Anderson said of his record-tying homer, which gives him the American League lead, "but it would have meant a lot more if we would have won."

The game was not won with the best bats, but with the best gloves.

Pub Date: 4/28/96

Orioles today

Opponent: Texas Rangers

Site: Oriole Park

Time: 1: 35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Rangers' Ken Hill (3-2, 4.11) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (3-2, 4.66)

Tickets: 1,900 remain

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