Erickson offers power of positive sinking

October 09, 1997|By KEN ROSENTHAL

The Orioles are in ideal position to win the American League Championship Series, and not just because Scott Erickson pitched them to a 3-0 victory in Game 1 last night.

Erickson was utterly dominant, holding Cleveland to four singles in eight innings. And the best part is, he also could pitch Game 4 and even Game 7 on three days' rest if the Orioles decide to give Jimmy Key only one start in this series.

"It's a possibility, a probability," pitching coach Ray Miller said of Erickson's starting Game 4. "I think we'll wait and see where we're at. But that's what we plan to do."

The issue might not even surface if the series unfolds as smoothly as last night's game, but Erickson gives the Orioles room to maneuver. The simple fact is, Johnson won't need to start Key twice if he uses Scott Kamieniecki in Game 5.

Mike Mussina and Erickson would pitch games 3 and 4, respectively, then 6 and 7 on three days' rest, if necessary. Key would get a much-needed break and be available to start twice in the World Series.

Johnson will commit to nothing at this point -- he's going day-to-day. With a 10-man pitching staff, he might need Kamieniecki tonight to bail out Key. Or, if the Orioles go up 3-0, he might even pitch Kamieniecki in Game 4.

"Whenever Davey sends me out there, I'm ready to go," Erickson said. "I'm ready to go on three days, four days, who knows? I'm not sure if he has it made out yet."

Johnson doesn't, but he said Erickson is now "set up" for Game 4 after throwing only 90 pitches. Erickson's ball started to rise in the eighth. Johnson liked the matchups with Randy Myers in the ninth. It all worked out again.

The Orioles recorded their first postseason shutout since Scott McGregor beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 5-0, to clinch the 1983 World Series. They've now allowed only 11 runs in five postseason games against two of the top-hitting teams in baseball.

Heck, they're on such a roll, Johnson looks like a genius, no matter who he puts in the lineup. Last night, it was Geronimo Berroa in right field. What happened? Berroa did not get a single ball hit to him in six innings.

Johnson used Berroa because he didn't want to expend Eric Davis, because Berroa had dynamite numbers against Cleveland and because Erickson allows the fewest fly balls of any pitcher in the American League.

Erickson entered October winless in six career postseason starts, but just as he was a different pitcher in the regular season, he's a different pitcher now.

He worked 6 2/3 innings to beat Seattle in Game 2 of the Division Series. He allowed only four base runners last night. He's now 2-0 in the postseason with a 1.84 ERA.

The Indians flailed at his breaking stuff, fouled off his sinkers, got very few good swings. Erickson called himself "lucky," but he was being modest. He wasn't lucky -- he was very, very good.

"I hate to look at the radar gun sometimes," Johnson said. "Scotty's basically a sinkerballer. He should be around 93 [mph]. He was up to 96. It looked like he could go higher."

He also incorporated more breaking pitches than Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove could ever remember him throwing. And, as Johnson said, "If he's throwing the breaking ball over, I don't know anyone that would want to hit off him."

Tonight, of course, could be different -- Key has won only once at Camden Yards since May 7. Still, the veteran left-hander continues to insist that he is not overly tired after exceeding 200 innings for the first time since 1993.

Johnson gave Key a quick hook in Game 3 of the Division Series, pulling him after 4 2/3 innings with the Orioles trailing 2-0. He probably will watch him just as closely tonight.

"I would guess that by the way he took me out the other day," Key said. "He's concerned late in games, although that wasn't that late. I was in the 70-pitch range.

"We haven't discussed how far he'll let me go. I guess he'll look at the situation of the game. With that ballclub [Seattle], some of those numbers those guys had against me, he wasn't going to give me a long rope."

Key fared better against Cleveland this season, going 1-1 with a 3.75 ERA, with his victory coming at Camden Yards on Sept. 16. The Orioles aren't about to give up on him -- his postseason history is too rich, and he's just too important.

Still, that doesn't mean Key has to play a pivotal role in this series. Johnson can ride Erickson like Florida's Jim Leyland is riding Kevin Brown in the NLCS. Sinkerballers crave the work, Erickson especially.

"He has a tremendous amount of energy," Johnson said, smiling. "I think you could pitch him on one day's rest, and he'd be fine."

Erickson's statistics on three days' rest aren't impressive -- he's 8-6 with a 5.10 ERA the past six seasons -- but it's best to ignore his pre-1997 numbers. In his one start on short rest this season, Erickson threw eight shutout innings to defeat Boston, 2-0.

He won Game 1. He's ready for Game 4.

Everything sets up for the Orioles now.

Efficient Erickson

A breakdown of the performance last night by Scott Erickson, who threw 90 pitches over eight innings:

Groundouts 12

Lineouts 2

Flyouts 4

Double plays 2

Popouts 2

Strikeouts 3

Runners to reach 2nd base 1

Runners to reach 3rd base 1

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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