O's slip by Jones, end mini-skid, 6-3 Indians reliever's balk, gopher ball to Ripken cut O's losses at two

Erickson: 9th complete game

Comeback win picks up game on Red Sox

August 23, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

With one pitching change yesterday, the Orioles went from seeing smoke to being fed slop. They also went from the throes of another crushing defeat to a much-needed reversal. And in the game's most critical moment, they benefited most by doing nothing.

For the second time in less than 24 hours, a balk helped determine the outcome of a game. On this day, the guilty party was Cleveland's Doug Jones, who finally got the chance to be a hero at Camden Yards.

Jones allowed the go-ahead run to score in the sixth when he committed a two-out balk with the bases loaded, and Cal Ripken homered off him an inning later to give the Orioles a 6-3 victory before 48,138.

In danger of reverting to first-half form, the Orioles (69-60) avoided their first three-game losing streak since being swept in New York before the break. They also moved within seven games of Boston in the wild-card race when the Red Sox lost to the Minnesota Twins, 4-3, last night on Paul Molitor's ninth-inning bunt single.

Scott Erickson (14-9) tossed his league-leading ninth complete game, scattering seven hits, including Manny Ramirez's 30th home run. Facing the tying run with two outs in the ninth, he got Torey Lovullo on a fly ball to left.

"I'm just trying to give the team a chance to win," he said.

Jones wound up doing the same. The Orioles' closer in 1995, his reliance on a slow-motion changeup provided a stark contrast to the 97-mph fastball of starter Bartolo Colon (13-7), who walked six and was removed with the bases full and one out in the sixth.

Trying to protect a 3-2 lead, Jones allowed a deep drive to center by Roberto Alomar that scored Willie Greene and advanced the runners. With first base open, B. J. Surhoff was walked intentionally to bring up Eric Davis, who had an RBI single in the third. Pitching from the stretch, Jones momentarily lost control of the ball in his bare hand as he raised it to his glove. He grabbed it near his waist and stepped off the rubber, then saw third base umpire Tim Tschida wave his arms and motion Lenny Webster home.

"I hit the corner of my glove with the ball," Jones said. "Then I stepped off. That probably sealed it for me. But I wasn't trying to deceive anyone."

The Orioles weren't fooled. Though manager Ray Miller said he missed it, infielder Jeff Reboulet made the call before Tschida.

"Rebs was great. He flew off the bench screaming," said Miller, who saw reliever Jesse Orosco's eighth-inning balk on Friday contribute to a 6-3 loss.

Jones lost the ball again in the seventh. This time, it disappeared into the seats.

After a leadoff single by Rafael Palmeiro, Ripken reached down for an 0-and-2 pitch and lined it inside the left-field foul pole for his 11th homer, and his second in three games. It also was his 2,850th hit, tying Jesse Burkett for 35th place on baseball's all-time list and padding the club record he set the previous night. Next on the list is Babe Ruth at 2,873.

"With Doug, it always seems like a cat-and-mouse game," said Ripken, who scored his 1,500th career run. "You look for a fastball one time, you look for a changeup another. It's a mind game. At that time, I made up my mind to look for a changeup, and if he threw a fastball I'd probably walk back to the dugout. He threw a changeup and I was able to get to it."

Ramirez got to Erickson in the fourth, drilling a homer to center field for a 1-1 tie. The Indians reached him again in the sixth, after a two-out double by Mike Bordick in the fourth had given the Orioles a 2-1 lead. Consecutive doubles by Lovullo and Brian Giles to open the inning tied the score, and David Justice bounced a single up the middle with two outs to move the Indians ahead.

Erickson wiggled out of a jam in the eighth by striking out Travis Fryman and Justice with runners on second and third. He got the first two outs in the ninth, then walked Omar Vizquel and Kenny Lofton. Miller went to the mound but declined to bring in Arthur Rhodes to face the left-handed-hitting Lovullo, assuming Hargrove would counter with Cecil Fielder. Preferring the matchup at hand, Miller got the desired result.

"He just said to make good pitches and go get him," Erickson said.

"I told him I was going against my better judgment," Miller said.

There also would be words of encouragement for Erickson, but no regrets.

"When you have a personality like that and the stuff that he does, sometimes you have to figure out a way to motivate that," Ripken said. "Sometimes you put an arm around him and say, 'OK, everything's going to be all right,' and sometimes you say, 'Come on, let's get it done.' I think today might have been one of those, 'Let's get it dones,' and he went out and did it.

"Everybody knows he's going to give you innings. It seemed like he struggled a little bit, but he stays out there and keeps going at it, going at it, and before you know it he's got a complete game."

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