O's hit, run past Tigers, 5-4 Ripken double on steal, Zeile 3-run HR move O's within 2 1/2 of first

Closest to Yanks since June

Erickson no-hits Tigers from 3rd through 7th

September 10, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Orioles manager Davey Johnson joked Sunday he would faint if any member of his one-dimensional, power-hitting offense tried to steal. But he didn't say anything about a hit-and-run, a fundamental the Orioles have rarely tried and almost never executed -- until last night.

A hit-and-run double by Cal Ripken drove in the tying run and set up the winning run, as the Orioles beat Detroit, 5-4. Scott Erickson (11-11) survived a rocky start to improve to 6-1 in his past eight starts, and the Orioles drew within 2 1/2 games of the idle New York Yankees, the closest they've been to first place since June 20.

The Orioles, winners of 27 of their last 42, are a half-game behind the White Sox in the wild-card race, as they begin a crucial three-game series with Chicago tonight.

"The ball was down and out of the strike zone," Johnson said of Ripken's hit-and-run. "It was the play of the game."

But there were several other big ones as well.

Todd Zeile's three-run homer in the third inning perpetuated the team's streak of 11 consecutive games with at least one homer and dug the Orioles out of an early 4-0 hole.

That seemed to hearten Erickson, who no-hit Detroit from the third through the seventh, eight of 12 outs coming on ground balls.

"Scottie is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Johnson said of Erickson, who went 7 1/3 innings before Jesse Orosco and Randy Myers (28th save) finished up. "The first two innings he didn't have much movement on his fastball."

But Johnson said he was confident of making up the early deficit. "It's the nature of this club," he said. "We can look terrible. Then a base hit, a walk and boom!"

Or, last night, even a smaller explosion.

Rafael Palmeiro singled leading off the sixth against Detroit starter Omar Olivares, and the crowd of 42,562 answered with expectant cheers. Something good was going to happen.

Olivares threw two balls to Bobby Bonilla, and catcher Brad Ausmus visited the mound, attempting to settle his pitcher. Olivares threw another ball, and Detroit pitching coach Jon Matlack went to the mound. Nothing helped, as Bonilla drew the walk.

First and second and nobody out, the Orioles down a run in the sixth inning. In the National League, this is a guaranteed bunt situation. But not many NL teams have sixth-place hitters headed to the Hall of Fame, such as Cal Ripken.

But Ripken hadn't been swinging well of late, having gone 12 games without an RBI, and he did, indeed, square to bunt on the first pitch, but took a ball. Ripken swung and missed the second pitch, then looked to bunt again on the third pitch but took ball two.

Ripken walked out of the box and looked to third base coach Sam Perlozzo for a sign. Either Ripken didn't comprehend what Perlozzo was trying to convey, or he was stunned by what he saw, because Ripken moved his hand in a circle, baseball sign language for Give me that sign again.

Ripken stepped back in to hit, and as Olivares began his delivery, Palmeiro broke from second -- a hit-and-run, the first attempted by the Orioles in weeks. Ripken swung at a pitch low and in and grounded it down the third base line into left field. Palmeiro scored, Bonilla stopped at third, and Ripken ended up on second with a double. Three batters later, pinch hitter Chris Hoiles flied out to left, and Bonilla beat a weak throw home from left fielder Curtis Pride. Orioles 5, Tigers 4, the second time in two days the Orioles came back from an early-inning deficit.

Detroit hitters accumulated 39 strikeouts in the first three games of the series, swinging recklessly, and after the Tigers' 6-2 loss Sunday, manager Buddy Bell criticized his offense. A handful of players showed up early yesterday to take extra batting practice.

Perhaps as a result of this, the Tigers took a much more calculated approach to hitting against Erickson, looking to drive his fastball to the opposite field. Pride hit the second pitch of the game to the opposite field, over the left-field wall, the second time in five games he's led off with a home run. The right-handed-hitting Mark Lewis doubled to right, Bobby Higginson hit an infield single the other way, and Tony Clark, hitting left-handed, singled through shortstop, and on and on Detroit continued in this vein; five of the Tigers' first six hits went the opposite way.

It was an effective approach. Leading 1-0 after the first inning, Clark's single and one by Phil Hiatt opened the second, and they advanced to second and third on Ausmus' sacrifice bunt. A passed ball scored Clark, Hiatt came home on a groundout. Lewis doubled again -- again, to the opposite field. Travis Fryman hit a two-out roller toward third baseman Zeile that should've been the final out of the inning. However, the ball bounced off and past Zeile and Lewis scored.

The Orioles trailed by four, but if anyone thought they were finished, they haven't been paying attention. Four-run deficits don't mean much to a team averaging more than 2 1/2 homers per game over the last week and a half.

Two outs into the third, Brady Anderson singled to right, and stole second. Olivares walked Roberto Alomar, and Zeile, on his 31st birthday, was next.

One ball and one strike, and Tigers catcher Ausmus called for a fastball, inside. Olivares complied, but the ball never reached his LTC mitt: Zeile slammed a line drive over the left-field wall, his fourth homer in 10 games since joining the Orioles, the team's 232nd homer of the year, eight short of the all-time record.

"I'm a plus-two on the plus-minus scale," Zeile said. "I gave one away, but I got a couple back."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Chicago White Sox

Site: Camden Yards Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: White Sox's Kevin Tapani (12-8, 4.41) vs. O's David Wells (10-13, 4.69)

Tickets: 5,600 remain.

Pub Date: 9/10/96

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