O's show staying power, 7-1 Erickson goes distance along with 3 homers as intact O's rip A's

Win is 11th in 12 games

Palmeiro celebrates with 3-run shot in first

July 22, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Uncertain going in if they could gain any ground on the lead team in the wild-card chase, the Orioles used last night's game as another reminder of why they choose to run.

With Boston's victory from the first game of a doubleheader posted on the scoreboard, the Orioles took care of their own business, dispatching the Oakland Athletics, 7-1, before 42,174 at Camden Yards. Rafael Palmeiro hit his 30th homer to provide all the support Scott Erickson needed in another masterful route-going performance, keeping him with only one defeat since May 31.

The first order of business for the Orioles (49-51) yesterday was settling on which direction to go for the remainder of the season. Intent on staying together and taking a stab at the wild card, they proceeded to win for the 11th time in 12 games, closing within nine games of the Red Sox when Boston lost the rain-shortened nightcap in Cleveland. The Orioles haven't been this close to .500 since June 22, when they were 37-39, but on the brink of an eight-game losing streak.

Palmeiro, one of the pending free agents previously made available by the club, was called into manager Ray Miller's office before batting practice. He then celebrated the Orioles' commitment to 1998 with his 301st career homer, catching up to a Tom Candiotti knuckleball and lifting it over the center-field fence for a 3-1 lead.

"Today, I saw a smile on his face for the first time in a long time," Miller said. "Sometimes in this position, all of us are guilty of not talking enough to people on a personal level, especially guys who are doing a good job for you. But I think it might have cleared his mind a little. I don't care how much money you make or what your status is, whenever there's a possible change, it's kind of a fretful thing."

Candiotti, groping for victories the last two months, would get squeezed twice more.

Having already extended his hitting streak to nine games with a first-inning single, Eric Davis launched his 16th homer in the fifth as part of a 3-for-4 night. The ball traveled 420 feet to left, taking with it any chance the A's had of getting back into the game.

Cal Ripken added a sixth-inning homer, the 378th of his career, moving past Norm Cash into 37th place on the all-time list.

For Palmeiro, the first-inning homer was his sixth this month and the third lifetime off Candiotti. He's 11-for-24 against the right-hander.

"You've got to look for the ball up in the zone. That's what I was doing," said Palmeiro, the only Oriole to hit at least 30 homers four consecutive years. "He threw a ball I could drive. The knuckleball goes a long way."

So did assurances from Miller that pricey veterans wouldn't be traded away for prospects, that an eye still was pointed toward the present rather than the future.

"I'm glad they decided on that because I think everyone in the clubhouse feels like we can turn this around and get back in the wild-card race," Palmeiro said. "There are a lot of games to be played and we're going to play good baseball the rest of the way."

"It doesn't matter what people on the outside say. We control our own destiny."

Erickson had a firm grasp on Oakland after falling behind 1-0 in the first. Two of the three hits that inning were grounders down the third base line, sandwiched around a liner into center by Matt Stairs that scored Bip Roberts.

If must have been an illusion. Erickson (11-7) struck out the side in the second inning and retired 25 of the final 29 batters after Jason Giambi's double past Ripken in the first, providing his league-leading seventh complete game.

It was just more of the same from Erickson. Before last night, he was 5-1 with a 2.63 ERA over his past nine starts, the only loss a 1-0 complete-game decision in New York on July 5. He's rationed the A's to four earned runs in his last 35 innings against them.

"He really spotted the ball well," said Oakland manager Art Howe. "He brought four-seamers in on the left-handers and sinkers in on the right-handers. When he's on, he's tough to score on. Check his track record. When he's got his stuff, he's nasty."

Said Erickson: "Things have turned out all right lately."

They couldn't get much worse for Candiotti (5-12).

He had been 10-4 with a 2.71 ERA in 19 career starts against the Orioles, including two victories this season. The second came May 22, when his offense bailed him out during five shaky innings. He has only one victory in nine decisions since then and didn't receive much assistance last night after getting scorched in the first.

Candiotti hit Jeff Reboulet with one out, and Davis followed with a single past diving shortstop Miguel Tejada. Candiotti got ahead of Palmeiro, 1-2, then watched his signature pitch disappear over the fence.

The Orioles put a runner on base in each of the next three innings without scoring, then erupted again in the fifth.

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