Erickson yanks rug out, 4-1 Oriole's 4-hitter drops New York 9 1/2 back, on verge of being swept

'We owe it to them'

O's payback for '96 at 7-0 and counting

September 07, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Payback, baby.

The Orioles continue to give it to the New York Yankees with interest, and they're loving every delicious inning of it.

Extending their season-long domination of the defending World Series champions to seven games, the Orioles used a four-hitter by starter Scott Erickson, a second-inning home run by Geronimo Berroa and doubles from Rafael Palmeiro and Brady Anderson to beat the Yankees, 4-1, yesterday before 52,535 at Yankee Stadium.

For the locals, this four-game series has gone from showdown to meltdown.

"We owe it to them. They whipped up on us bad last year," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson. "It's nice to return the favor."

The Orioles now lead the Yankees by 9 1/2 games, matching their largest margin of the season, with 23 remaining, a combination that leaves little doubt whether they will win their first division title since 1983.

"They don't have the chemistry over there they had last year," said catcher Lenny Webster, who handled Erickson's 16th win. "They've had guys hurt and things go wrong. We have, too, but we've battled through it. There's a strength on this team that I think is a special quality."

The bruises still haven't completely healed from last year, when the Yankees embarrassed Johnson's club at Camden Yards during the season, then bounced it from the American League Championship Series in five games. But they're close.

Another win today would give the Orioles their first four-game sweep at Yankee Stadium since September 1976. The Orioles have won seven straight in the same season over the Yankees for the first time, and their eight consecutive wins dating to the final regular-season meeting last year is one shy of a record set in 1967-1968.

Johnson steadfastly believed last week's three-game sweep by the Florida Marlins was of little consequence compared with this weekend's series. A veteran clubhouse appeared to sense the same.

"I think both us and the Yankees were looking ahead to this series," Johnson said. "I don't care what anybody says. It was going to be a showdown, one way or the other. No matter how you played coming up to it, it's how you played in this series that would determine the outcome."

Anderson gave him a total game, twice running down deep fly balls and hitting a two-out RBI double in the fifth inning for a 2-0 lead.

"I don't know if it's dialing it up," Anderson said of his team's ability to raise itself for pivotal series. "I think we've just been very consistent all year. In this clubhouse, nobody gets real high over a win or way down when things get rough."

Still, these three games have represented a marked turnaround for a team that had lost five straight coming in.

"This ballclub's been dead tired," Johnson said. "Brady's banged up but did you see how he's running? He's limping. He's still hurting. But with the adrenalin for this series, you knew they didn't need any pep talk."

Berroa, especially. Since being removed for a pinch hitter during the eighth inning Thursday in New York, Berroa has seethed. His response was three hits Friday night and his 24th home run yesterday. Berroa is hitting .349 in his past 11 games and has 16 RBIs in his past 21 games, all the more reason to remain perplexed over Johnson's runaway late-inning strategy.

"At that time, I was feeling real, real bad," said Berroa, who could not remember ever being pulled for a pinch hitter. "I didn't know whether to say something or what, but I felt bad. Go ask anybody in the clubhouse. There's nobody who's going to pinch hit for me."

He added: "I'm going to show him I don't like that. Every year I have 80 or 90 RBIs. There's a reason. Nobody gives that to me."

Berroa scored the Orioles' third run in the sixth inning when Palmeiro doubled against the center-field wall for his 20th RBI in 20 games. Webster finished the Orioles' scoring with a two-out single to score Palmeiro for a 4-0 lead.

Injuries have hit the Yankees even harder than the Orioles. Only a similarly disastrous run by the Anaheim Angels has left the Yankees in a snug position for the AL's wild-card berth.

"It's like looking for a job," Yankees manager Joe Torre said, perhaps cryptically, after his club's sixth loss in a row and ninth in 10 games. "People keep saying no until eventually someone

says yes. The only thing you can do about it is to keep grinding and keep going out there."

Johnson said he won't count out the Yankees until they're mathematically eliminated. At this rate, that may take another week.

Reeling from their longest losing streak since 1995, the Yankees now appear a sluggish team resigned to their fate. They pushed only two runners to second base in the first eight innings, and both Tim Raines and Bernie Williams had to steal to get there. Erickson faced no more than four hitters in any inning and allowed a leadoff hitter to reach only twice.

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