Erickson returns to form Five-hit, 7-0 victory over Devil Rays is his 8th complete game

Bordick contributes 3 RBIs

Palmeiro hits 36th HR in 7th win in last nine

August 13, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Forgetting Tuesday night's three-hit hangover, the Orioles celebrated a return to normalcy yesterday. Home runs stayed home runs. A slumping expansion team was made to look like a slumping expansion team. Most encouraging, Scott Erickson reclaimed his place as staff plow horse.

Erickson (12-9) provided the Orioles and their weary bullpen a five-hit, 7-0 shutout of the irksome Tampa Bay Devil Rays. In turn, his hitters supported him with early runs and his fielders completed what may have been their best defensive series this season. Shortstop Mike Bordick highlighted a 10-hit attack with a season-high three RBIs while enjoying a rare breakout against left-handed pitching.

The win was the Orioles' second of the three-game series and bumped them to 4-2 on a 10-game road show that shifts to Cleveland tonight. They are 24-7 since the All-Star break and have captured seven of their past nine.

After scoring seven runs in their previous three games, yesterday represented a welcome return to form for a revived club hitting .300 since the break.

Bordick helped improve what had been an 0-for-26 performance by the bottom four spots in the lineup in the first two games. Batting ninth, he contributed a sacrifice fly and a two-run double, and B. J. Surhoff added an RBI.

"We were flat," Rafael Palmeiro said of the club's three-game

malaise. "But you've got to give them some credit, too. They pitched well the first two games."

This time, it was the Orioles' turn to pitch most impressively.

Erickson walked one, struck out five and again resembled the pitcher who suffered only one loss in 10 starts from June 5 to

July 21. He was given a 1-0 lead in the second inning on Bordick's sacrifice fly and a 3-0 cushion in the third thanks to Palmeiro's two-run homer, his 36th, against Devil Rays starter Wilson Alvarez (5-11) in the third. Erickson, who retired 17 straight hitters after a nervous first inning, never again faced the tying run at the plate.

"It's a lot easier when you score a few runs. Those guys the last two days had pitched really good. It's always helpful for the pitcher when guys score four or five runs," said Erickson, though the Orioles have scored 49 runs in his last six starts.

"Scotty's a tough guy to read," said Ray Miller. "He can go through 12 hitters then all of a sudden give up five straight hits and a couple runs. Then he'll turn around and go through 20 guys in a row."

In his last start, Erickson had managed only 12 outs, the time before only nine. Three sloppy starts since June 26 had caused concern. During the stretch, Erickson was 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA, allowing 31 base runners in only 12 innings.

This wasn't the first time that Erickson struggled this season. Until adjusting the length of his stride before a May 11 start, he often pushed his pitches as a result of overstriding.

Recently he had began suffering similar results but, according to his manager and pitching coach, for different reasons.

Clubhouse wisdom held that Erickson was suffering from a tired arm. The league leader in innings pitched, Erickson was allowed six days before his previous outing, an ineffective four-inning effort in Minnesota on Friday. Pitching coach Mike Flanagan believed he tried to compensate for arm weariness by pushing even harder with his legs. As a result, Erickson dragged his arm, eliminating bite from his slider and velocity from his sinking fastball. Flanagan saw further evidence of fatigue in his lower arm slot.

"Today he was more like himself, a lot more 12-to-6," Flanagan said, likening the motion to the hands of a clock. "Before he was 2-to-8."

Erickson has little use for explaining his mechanics. Asked of the adjustments he made in a Sunday side session, he only acknowledged feeling positive afterward.

"Everybody throws the ball a certain way," he said. "It's important for each guy to know his mechanics and the muscle memory it takes for him to be effective."

Yesterday's lockdown marked his league-high eighth complete game. He is 6-2 with a 1.27 ERA in those games compared with 6-7, 5.25 in his other 19 starts.

"Hopefully, this will turn things around. It's only one game, so I can't get too excited about it. But hopefully, I'll carry this a few more starts," Erickson said.

His only scare came in the first inning, when the Devil Rays placed runners at first and second with one out. Erickson escaped by getting Fred McGriff to hit into a fielder's choice before striking out Paul Sorrento.

Bordick then gave Erickson the only run he would need on a sacrifice fly driven to deep right field. Five innings later, he would chase Alvarez with a one-out double inside the left-field line to score Surhoff and Rich Becker, who were hit and walked.

Bordick's two-year term in Baltimore has been most notable for consistent defense, a model work ethic and a maddening time against left-handed pitching.

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