Yankees run it up again on O's Erickson KO'd in 3rd, N.Y. records third straight romp, 13-5

Unheralded Mendoza gets win

AL East lead at 6 1/2

Mussina starts today

September 13, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It wasn't all negative. The Orioles went down hard again to the rival New York Yankees last night, but there were plenty of reasons to look on the bright side of their 13-5 defeat at Camden Yards.

For one thing, the Orioles magic number (12) did not go up. No matter how many runs the club gives up to the Yankees during this four-game series -- and it looks like it will be a bucketful -- the Orioles still lead the AL East by 6 1/2 games and can do no worse than hold a 4 1/2 -game lead with 16 games to go when the Yankees leave town tomorrow night.

For another, the Orioles still hold a decided advantage in the season series, which they clinched last weekend in New York. No matter what happens the rest of the way, they will finish the regular season with bragging rights going into the postseason.

For still another, right-hander Scott Erickson was not injured by any of the nine hits he gave up in the 2 1/3 innings he stayed out on the mound. Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte knows you should never take that for granted.

The Yankees still are not holding out any realistic hope of winning the East, but they came to Baltimore looking for something to grab onto after a lengthy slump that appeared to remove any chance of defending their 1996 division title. They have grabbed onto the Orioles' struggling pitching staff and refuse to let go.

They batted around in the second inning to score five times and chased Erickson in the third on the way to their third straight blowout victory over the Orioles, dating to the final game of the four-game series at Yankee Stadium last weekend. The Yankees also batted around against Shawn Boskie and Brian Williams to score four times in the seventh inning.

"They jumped all over us," said manager Davey Johnson, who again was left searching for silver linings after another lopsided defeat. "They had another offensive surge and we didn't pitch that well."

In all, the Yankees have outscored the Orioles 37-10 in the last three games and evened the eight-game, home-and-home September showdown at 3-3.

That's the most significant number. The lopsided nature of the past three meetings has altered the perception of the series, but the Orioles arrived in New York needing only to buy time.

If they split the last two games of this series, they will have burned 10 games off the schedule without losing an inch in the standings.

Still, it was another important victory for the Yankees, who were badly in need of an emotional lift after Erickson dominated them a week ago in New York and secured the Orioles' third victory in that four-game series. They paid him back by sending him to his first loss in two months.

Manager Joe Torre said from the start that all the Yankees wanted to do was win some games and start scoring some runs again. They have done both since breaking out of a lengthy slump with a 10-3 victory over the Orioles in the finale of the series in the Bronx.

They split a two-game series in Boston and opened the second series against the Orioles by hammering left-hander Jimmy Key on the way to an ugly 14-2 win on Thursday night.

Last night, right-hander Ramiro Mendoza was the beneficiary of the latest offensive eruption, but he pitched well enough to win under any conditions, giving up just two unearned runs on nine hits through seven innings to even his record at 6-6.

So much for the psychological advantage that the Orioles supposedly built by opening the season with seven straight head-to-head victories. The Yankees have answered by trashing two of the top three starters in the Orioles rotation, with Mike Mussina scheduled to take the mound six days after suffering a cut on his right index finger early in Sunday's 10-3 loss at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees still could make it interesting if they can find a way to sweep the series at Oriole Park. That would pull them within 4 1/2 games with the Orioles scheduled to play four times the next two days against the Cleveland Indians.

"It's not reality check," Johnson said. "They have a fine ballclub. They didn't win the world championship last year without doing something right. Let's give them some credit. To think that we were going to roll over them all year was not realistic."

Erickson (16-6) can be forgiven a rare off-night. He has been the Orioles' most consistent starting pitcher this season -- and had not lost a decision since July 12 -- but looked shaky from the outset last night.

The Yankees took advantage of a walk and an infield hit to score a run on a single by Tino Martinez in the first inning, then broke the bank in the second.

Derek Jeter led off with a single up the middle and catcher Jorge Posada walked. No. 9 hitter Rey Sanchez popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt, but Tim Raines drove home a run with a double and Wade Boggs drove in two more with a looping single to center.

The Yankees went on to load the bases with two outs before a freak play at the plate led to two more runs and blew the game open.

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