Front-running O's Trip On Way Home

Red Sox Clean Up On `Messy' Erickson, Lax O's In Finale, 4-2

April 22, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- It took 15 games and four rainouts, but the Orioles finally stumbled into a game in which they could do little right when it mattered most.

Undone by a "messy" start by Scott Erickson, dubious base running and imperfect fielding, the Orioles ended their waterlogged four-game road trip yesterday with a 4-2 Patriots Day loss to the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.

After riding their consistent starting pitching for seven wins in their past eight games, the Orioles encountered the same in the Red Sox's Aaron Sele. They had no answer.

For every positive action, there arose a negative reaction.

Brady Anderson returned to the outfield from a three-week stint as designated hitter. He managed two hits and reached base four times, but stymied a third-inning uprising when he was caught stealing third.

"He had a green light. He just didn't get a good jump," manager Davey Johnson said.

Erickson (2-1) pitched well for three innings and seemed poised for the first 3-0 start of his career. Instead, it was Sele who earned the mark.

The Red Sox broke open the game in the fourth inning, scoring three runs in a span of four hitters. The decisive swing came from left fielder Wil Cordero, who turned a too-flat Erickson slider into a two-run shot, only the 10th homer allowed this season by the Orioles.

Erickson had allowed 10 hits and six runs in 14 innings covering his first two starts. However, he was only 6-7 lifetime against the Red Sox, including 0-3 since 1995. He described yesterday's effort as "a little messy" and believed Tim Naehring's fourth-inning double the most pivotal at-bat.

Erickson thought he had struck out Naehring for the second out but didn't receive a call. Naehring then doubled down the left-field line.

The start represented a blip in the rotation's recent string of successes. Entering the game, Orioles starters had allowed only 18 earned runs in their last 58 2/3 innings, a span covering nine games.

However, the hitters were not without their chances. The Orioles hit into two double plays and stranded nine runners. Able to give themselves a chance against the Red Sox's bullpen, they struck out four times in 2 1/3 innings against a bunch that has been hit-and-miss, mostly hit.

"Sometimes those guys win, too. Not often, but sometimes," said right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds.

"I thought we had 'em all the way," cracked Johnson, who saw his team outpitched and outhit for one of the few times this season.

Said Erickson: "We had a chance. They scored more than we did."

The Red Sox finished their scoring in the fifth on an unearned run created by Erickson's error and Roberto Alomar's failed attempt at a double play.

After Nomar Garciaparra led off with a single, Erickson threw past first base on a pickoff. Garciaparra took third on a groundout. Mo Vaughn was walked intentionally and Erickson induced a potential double-play ball from Reggie Jefferson. However, Alomar couldn't tag the retreating Vaughn and flip to first baseman Rafael Palmeiro in time for the out.

Johnson speculated that Alomar's sore left ankle slowed him. Alomar said he would have had a better chance at an unassisted double play but could not get past a traffic jam with Palmeiro holding the bag.

"It was slowly hit. That was my only chance to keep the run from scoring. I think I ran at him pretty good. I just couldn't get him," Alomar said.

After seeing three of their first 11 road games rained out, the Orioles return home to a run of 16 home games in 20 days. At 11-4, they have put early distance between themselves and the rest of the American League East despite not yet receiving a breakout of power. Yesterday represented a shutdown.

Excepting Sunday's 15-hit rip job, the Orioles have not found their offensive stride recently. Aside from their 11-1 win, they are hitting .239 with 13 runs scored and two home runs since April 14. They have been held to three runs or fewer four times since then, but have put together 3-1 and 1-0 wins.

"In baseball, you've got to go through slumps the same way you go through some winning streaks," Alomar said. "I think this year everybody is healthier. The bullpen's healthier. We have a little bit better team than last year. We can create some runs. We can still hit the home run.

"We had two or three spots where we could make a move. But they did a good job."

Sele walked the leadoff hitter in three innings but the Orioles never capitalized. After allowing hits to two of the first three batters he faced, Sele surrendered only one hit the next 5 2/3 innings.

"I pitched well enough, but I walked three guys to begin innings. That's a dangerous way to pitch against that lineup," Sele said.

Said Hammonds: "He changed speed and location pretty well. We had some chances, but he made the pitches when he had to."

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