Brewers foil O's again lead at 4

Erickson rocked, 8-3

Yankees gain ground

September 18, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

As manager Davey Johnson continues to tinker with his lineup in an effort to kick-start a lagging offense, the Orioles fight to avoid a tumble of heady proportions and regroup in time for the postseason.

Unable to score enough runs to smooth over another rough outing from Scott Erickson, the Orioles lost for the 13th time in 20 games, falling to the Milwaukee Brewers, 8-3, last night before 45,616 at Camden Yards.

Their lead over the New York Yankees in the American League East is down to four games, the lowest it's been since Aug. 15, with 11 to play. Less than two weeks ago, it stood at 9 1/2 after a third straight win in New York. The Orioles can do no worse than a wild card, but that's not the hand they intended to be dealt.

Is it clinch time or flinch time?

Johnson said the Yankees are the least of his worries. He's more concerned with rustling his club from a slumber that has been induced, in part, from an exhaustive stretch that included five games in 49 hours.

"We've gone through a tough time. The guys are a little tired. They're really tired," he said.

"I think tomorrow I'm basically going to throw a bunch of guys out there who didn't play tonight, with the exception of Cal [Ripken] and probably [Roberto] Alomar. I'll let them know a day ahead of time I'm giving them off. They can squawk all they want, but I know it's time."

He doesn't believe it's time to panic over a shrinking lead or become too preoccupied with New York, which held the Orioles' magic number at seven.

"We're in the playoffs, so I'm not concerned. I'm concerned about how we're playing, not how the Yankees are playing. That's the least of my problems," Johnson said.

"We've been through this about three or four times this year," Erickson said. "Hopefully, it's over with before the playoffs start."

The Brewers have one of baseball's worst road records, but they swept the Orioles here right after the All-Star break, and caught them in another offensive swoon last night.

Alomar, leading off again in Johnson's revamped order, hit his first home run since July 28, a two-run shot in the third inning that erased a 2-0 deficit. Catcher Lenny Webster added a bases-empty homer in the seventh.

The Brewers scored four times in the fifth to move ahead and chase Erickson (16-7), who's given up 14 runs over 6 2/3 innings in his last two starts. Gerald Williams singled and stole second, then came home when Fernando Vina's bouncer toward the middle that deflected off Alomar's glove and rolled behind him as he attempted a back-handed stab. With Vina running, Mark Loretta followed with a sharp grounder that went under Alomar as he dived to his right, and Dave Nilsson singled for a 4-2 lead.

Erickson struck out Julio Franco, but Jeremy Burnitz doubled high off the scoreboard in right, delivering Loretta and bringing left-hander Arthur Rhodes into the game. Darrin Jackson tacked on another run with a two-out single.

"They had some well-placed ground balls that last inning," Erickson said. "I felt good today. I honestly think I made some pretty decent pitches and they hit them. I think on three or four of their hits, the ball was knee-high or below, which is where I'm supposed to throw it."

Rhodes lasted two innings, giving up two runs and four hits. He's permitted runs in his last three outings.

Erickson labored in the first inning, but at least he was able to walk off the field. For a moment, it looked as though he'd need to be air-lifted.

The Brewers had two runners on with one out when Franco sent a liner up the middle that nailed Erickson on his right thigh. Reacting as if nothing happened, Erickson raced off the mound to retrieve the ball and threw out Franco, then needed only one warm-up toss to convince Johnson and trainer Richie Bancells that he could continue.

It took one more pitch for Erickson to fall behind, 2-0. Burnitz grounded the right-hander's next offering into center field, scoring Loretta and Nilsson.

Erickson was coming off one of his worst starts of the year. Unable to keep the ball down five nights before, he coughed up eight runs and nine hits in 2 1/3 innings against New York. But he avoided a similar exit last night by retiring 10 of the next 11 batters after Valentin's single.

He appeared ready to duel Milwaukee starter Jeff D'Amico the rest of the way, but departed after 4 1/3 innings and 80 pitches, giving up six runs and nine hits. Before the Yankees debacle, he hadn't lost since July 12.

"Scottie didn't have his best stuff and they chipped away at him," Johnson said. "I probably went a little too far with him, but our bullpen needed a day off, too."

Before last night, D'Amico (9-6) had a 1.29 ERA in two games against the Orioles this season, but he was making only his fourth start since coming off the disabled list Sept. 2. He hadn't pitched before that since July 18 because of tendinitis in his right biceps.

D'Amico was replaced by left-hander Joel Adamson to begin the sixth, with another victory over the Orioles in the works.

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