Even on unfamiliar turf, Erickson stands ground Ground-ball outs prove instrumental in victory

October 03, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Scott Erickson got his usual complement of ground balls yesterday, some sneaking into vacant areas, most settling into the waiting gloves of his infielders. And it was all the Orioles needed to take firm control of the Division Series.

Erickson surrendered two runs in the first, then held down the Seattle Mariners with force until an Orioles comeback that materialized midway through the game. He squeezed in five shutout innings between two trouble points, turned the game over to the bullpen and was rewarded with a 9-3 victory that gave his club a 2-0 lead heading to Camden Yards.

In so many ways, it was vintage Erickson, even on unfamiliar turf. Baseballs left his hand and came back with rug burns. He allowed three runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings, walking two and striking out six. He threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 28 batters he faced.

Two of Seattle's hits off Erickson never made it to the outfield, including the leadoff single by Joey Cora that began the Mariners' first-inning flurry. Roberto Kelly followed with a double off the center-field fence, and Ken Griffey brought home Cora with a bouncer that deflected off first baseman Rafael Palmeiro's glove to Roberto Alomar, who threw to Erickson covering first.

Edgar Martinez increased the lead to 2-0 with a grounder to shortstop Mike Bordick. Erickson wiped the sweat from his face, knowing the damage had been minimal.

"I made a bad pitch to Roberto Kelly and then just tried to limit it to hopefully two runs or one," he said. "Their guys went up there swinging, putting the ball in play. We had the infield back to keep them from scoring three or four. We shut them down after that."

He didn't get into serious trouble again until the sixth, after the Orioles had taken a 3-2 lead. Griffey bounced a single to right and stole second with one out, but Erickson struck out Alex Rodriguez and Jay Buhner, who had combined for 65 homers, including one each in the postseason. Rodriguezwhiffed at a sinker, Buhner froze as Erickson painted the outside corner.

The Mariners finally chased Erickson in the seventh, though they didn't exactly fling him around the Kingdome. Pinch hitter Rob Ducey grounded a single down the left-field line to score Paul Sorrento with Seattle's third run, then was thrown out by B. J. Surhoff trying to stretch it into a double.

Cora singled on Erickson's 90th pitch, just beyond a diving Palmeiro, bringing manager Davey Johnson to the mound and reliever Armando Benitez into the game.

The rally started with a leadoff walk to Sorrento that Erickson blamed on some confusion with catcher Lenny Webster. A passed ball put Sorrento into scoring position.

"Erickson has improved his breaking pitches. We've noticed that," said Seattle manager Lou Piniella. "He kept the ball down the whole game. He might have been a little pumped up early and then settled down and did an outstanding job."

Erickson, 16-7 during the regular season, said on Wednesday that he wasn't surprised to be the Game 2 starter, rather than being held back for Game 3 and the natural surface at Camden Yards that better suits a sinkerball pitcher.

And Johnson didn't consider moving up Jimmy Key from his Game 3 assignment and avoid pitching him at Camden Yards, where wins became scarce for the left-hander in the second half of the season.

"We set a pattern, when a guy's projected to pitch, and when you start messing with that, you start messing with their minds," Johnson said.

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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