Erickson, O's Go Extra Step For 2-0 Win

Starter Fills Key Void Allowing 3 Hits In 8

O's Move Up For Both Runs

Glove Gems Also Foil Boston

Hammonds, Davis Beat Throws, End Brief Skid

April 26, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

The Orioles' front office spent the winter putting together a team that would be quicker on the bases, more efficient on defense and more effective on the mound. So, no one should have been surprised when all those elements worked in concert last night to carry the club to a very satisfying 2-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox.

Right-hander Scott Erickson and Randy Myers combined on a four-hit shutout and the Orioles ran away with a couple of runs in the seventh inning to end a brief two-game losing streak before 45,227 at Camden Yards.

Pitching. Speed. Defense.

"That's baseball," said manager Davey Johnson, "doing the little things and putting pressure on the opposing pitcher. That's not National League baseball. That's just good baseball."

Erickson worked eight innings and gave up just three hits to become the third Orioles starter to record his third victory of the year. Myers came on to pitch the ninth and, despite allowing a single and a walk, remained perfect in nine save opportunities.

It was a pitched battle -- pitting Erickson against Red Sox right-hander Tom Gordon -- but it was decided over a six-out span in the sixth and seventh innings, when the Orioles scratched out two runs and then stifled a potential Red Sox rally with two excellent defensive plays.

"We're not always going to win these types of games," assistant general manager Kevin Malone said, "but we're going to put ourselves in a position to win these games. The more you do that, the more of these games you're going to win."

Jeffrey Hammonds started a two-out rally in the sixth with a single and a stolen base, then Eric Davis drove in the go-ahead run and set up another by outrunning a relay from the outfield to get in position to score on a single by Rafael Palmeiro.

Two runs would turn out to be enough, but only because Roberto Alomar made a flashy play to rob Wil Cordero of a leadoff single in the seventh and newly activated Tony Tarasco went into the left-field stands to rob Troy O'Leary of a home run just moments later.

That's the way general manager Pat Gillick, Malone and Johnson envisioned it when they allowed big swingers Bobby Bonilla, Eddie Murray and Todd Zeile to leave as free agents last November and replaced them with Davis and defensive specialist Mike Bordick. They had hoped to turn the Orioles into a leaner, more balanced club and -- if last night was any indication -- they succeeded.

"That's exactly what we tried to [create]," said Malone. "We felt after last year that we wanted a team that would be able to win more games with pitching and defense. I thought that was very evident tonight."

Erickson was pushed into last night's start when scheduled starter Jimmy Key woke up with a sore neck on Thursday morning, but pitching on short rest seemed to agree with him.

He got 17 groundouts and appeared to be just as effective in the eighth inning as he was in the first, forcing Johnson to make the difficult and unpopular decision to turn the game over to Myers in the ninth.

"That was probably my toughest hook," Johnson said. "Scotty was pitching brilliantly. He was getting ground balls. He had a low pitch count [85 pitches]. He had everything going for him that a manager wants in the ninth inning. If I don't have a hot reliever, I probably don't make the move."

Erickson's strong performance lends credence to the notion that he is one of those pitchers who is more effective when his arm is slightly tired. His 8-16 record in April and 21-8 mark in September also seems to support that theory, but he doesn't necessarily embrace the concept.

He bristled at the suggestion after a victory 12 days earlier, but conceded yesterday that he did feel better moving up in the rotation than he would have if he had been pushed back an extra day.

"It was kind of nice to pitch on an early day instead of a late day," Erickson said. "It's a little easier to have better command of the ball the more you throw it."

Last night, he appeared to have excellent command of the lower half of the strike zone. He retained his control even when he got in a jam in the third inning, as the first two Boston base runners reached on ground balls -- one a chopper that Palmeiro could not field cleanly and the other a bouncer to third that Cal Ripken picked up and threw wide of first for his fourth error of the year.

The Red Sox went on to load the bases for slugger Mo Vaughn, but Erickson got him to ground weakly to first base for the final out.

"Tonight he was just nasty," said catcher Lenny Webster. "I caught him in '93 [in Minnesota] when he was really sharp. Tonight reminded me of the old Erickson. I think he could have gotten through with just a fastball if he had wanted to. He had good rhythm and location. When he's got all that, the opposition is in trouble."

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