Rhodes swoops, O's regroup Reliever holds Tigers, soars to 7-0 after rally pulls out 10-7 victory

June 13, 1996|BY A SUN STAFF WRITER

DETROIT -- His teammates refer to Arthur Rhodes as The Vulture now, acknowledging his presence with bird calls that would frighten any passing flock. He's scavenged six of his seven victories this year, taking over in the middle innings and dominating until the Orioles score enough runs to win.

There is a story behind this. The first pitcher called The Vulture was a reliever for the Dodgers in 1966 -- Phil Regan, who, as manager of the Orioles last year, was the man who moved Rhodes to the bullpen.

The change didn't help the Orioles much in 1995, but it is paying off for Regan's replacement, Davey Johnson. Rhodes is 7-0 and the Orioles are seven games over .500 after beating the Tigers, 10-7, yesterday. Detroit and the Orioles have combined for 95 runs in five games, or 15.8 runs per game. Brady Anderson and Roberto Alomar were partly responsible for the production yesterday, each with two hits in the Orioles' 11-hit attack. Anderson drove in the leading run in the ninth.

The Orioles' starters are floundering, every day bringing another concussion; the Tigers shelled Scott Erickson for seven runs in 5 1/3 innings yesterday. The travails of the Orioles' rotation have been well-documented, every starter from Mike Mussina to Erickson getting hammered. Rocky Coppinger allowed five runs in five innings Tuesday night, and Johnson was genuinely excited.

But the bullpen has been solid over the past few weeks. Since May 18, Orioles relievers have combined for a 5-1 record and a 2.34 ERA. Following Erickson, Rhodes pitched 2 2/3 no-hit innings, striking out three, and Randy Myers threw the ninth inning for his 13th save.

"They're pitching their rears off," said pitching coach Pat Dobson. "If it wasn't for those guys in the bullpen, I wouldn't know where we'd be. And they've been doing it under adverse conditions, because they're overused. When they've had to make quality pitches, they've gotten it done."

Back in April, as the season started, the bullpen was well-stocked and lined up and well-rested, each pitcher assigned to a specific task, and collectively they were terrific. The Orioles' bullpen had an 0.26 ERA after 13 games. But on April 19, Armando Benitez went down with an elbow problem and the relief corps collapsed, allowing 18 runs that night to Texas. For a month, the bullpen was more about creating additional problems than being problem-solvers.

However, as Jesse Orosco has pitched better and Alan Mills has regained some arm strength and Rick Krivda and Rhodes have pitched consistently, the relievers are gradually sliding back into their roles.

Said Myers, "When we had the bullpen together and healthy, you could see what the bullpen is capable of, and now we're seeing it again."

Erickson was hit about as hard as any Orioles starter this year; there was no such thing as a cheap Tigers hit against him, everything a bullet. The Orioles scored five runs in the top of the third to go ahead 5-2, and Erickson promptly took a four-run beating in the next half-inning. Erickson is in a mechanical rut: When runners are on base and he must throw out of the stretch, he isn't getting his arm and hand over the ball and his sinker stops sinking; he'll make an adjustment for one or two pitches and then fall apart again. When there are no runners on base, Erickson's delivery is usually fine and his stuff is nasty.

"It's a combination of a mechanical thing and a mental thing," said Dobson. "He's got to make the adjustment. He just goes out and makes the same mental mistake over and over."

Rhodes began warming in the fifth, and took over in the sixth with the Orioles trailing 7-6. Detroit stopped hitting.

The Tigers didn't even really muster a threat against Rhodes, or against Myers in the ninth, as the relievers bought time for the Orioles to come back and win.

"I'm feeling better about my bullpen, and I've got to get the starting pitching to come around," Johnson said. "Otherwise, I'm going to have ulcers and all my hair will fall out by the All-Star break."

A hard rain soaked the field through the first four innings, but the Tigers and Orioles played despite the downpour in the final game of a three-game series. After Erickson gave up the runs in the third and fell behind, 6-5, Johnson began to worry the umpires would call the game after it became official in the fifth.

Before the fifth inning, he told Bobby Bonilla to wait for Rafael Palmeiro to reach base and then hit a homer. Palmeiro flied out, but Bonilla tied the game with an awesome blast into the second deck in right field.

The rain came in the sixth, when the Tigers took a 7-6 lead. But Palmeiro tied the score again with a bases-empty homer. Gregg Zaun walked against Richie Lewis leading off the ninth, and Anderson pulled a double into the right-field corner to score Zaun. Palmeiro later had an RBI single and Cal Ripken drove in a run with a groundout.

"It was nasty out there" in the rain, Johnson said. "It was borderline unplayable."

But it got a whole lot nicer after the Orioles' bullpen took over.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Kansas City Royals

Site: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.

Time: 8: 05

TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 50/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Kent Mercker (3-4, 6.23) vs. Royals' Doug Linton (1-2, 4.94)

Pub Date: 6/13/96

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