Clemens deals O's striking 3-1 loss Jays ace whiffs 15, Erickson 12 with Hirschbeck's help

September 22, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Ray Miller had a trigger finger and wasn't afraid to use it. Moments after Roger Clemens strong-armed the Toronto Blue Jays to a 3-1 win over his struggling Orioles at

SkyDome, Miller conducted a private screening of plate umpire John Hirschbeck's strike zone.

"Look at this. Look where this one goes," Miller said before rolling, rewinding and re-rolling a slow-motion replay showing his pitcher, Scott Erickson, striking out Craig Grebeck on a pitch at least eight inches outside. "How bad is that?"

Hirschbeck, who worked the plate during Mike Mussina's near no-hitter at Camden Yards Aug. 4 vs. the Detroit Tigers, returned with his double-wide strike zone last night. The Orioles suffered a club record-tying 17 strikeouts while slapping eight hits in the loss before 30,380. Not only did Clemens' eight-inning lockdown send them to their sixth loss in seven games, it made the Blue Jays right-hander his league's first 20-game winner while dropping the Orioles back to .500 (78-78).

On the night when Cal Ripken ran his consecutive-games streak one, Clemens remained undefeated since May 29. Ripken never received a chance in the field. Clemens never gave the Orioles a chance at the plate.

The four-time Cy Young Award winner needed little time to take advantage of the strike zone. He struck out 15 and lowered his league-best ERA to 2.58.

Every Orioles starter except Harold Baines and Rafael Palmeiro struck out at least once.

"Hey, I'm up there swinging at the first pitch because once he gets two strikes on you it's pretty much over," said Palmeiro, who had two hits. "It's not like you can lean out over the plate because he's getting eight inches outside. Then he'll bust you inside and that's a strike, too."

Said Hirschbeck: "It was the same [strike zone] as I had for Mussina. Like I said then, I'm not going to change. It's the same strike zone. You may want to ask Scott Erickson. Ask his catcher. Ask Clemens. Ask his catcher."

Striking out 11 in the first five innings, Clemens earned his 15th consecutive decision and is 11-0 since the All-Star break.

Clemens becomes the first pitcher since Gaylord Perry in 1974 to win 15 in a row, and leaves himself only one win shy of the AL record for consecutive wins in one season shared by Walter Johnson (1912), Smokey Joe Wood (1912), Lefty Grove (1931) rTC and Schoolboy Rowe (1934). He'll get the chance this weekend against the Tigers.

"I know I've got one start left and I want to try to finish strong and keep some good things happening," said Clemens.

Miller promised to forward a game tape to AL umpire supervisor Marty Springstead. "He's always big," Miller said of Hirschbeck. "But this was bigger than big."

"He's throwing 97 off the plate and getting the call," said B. J. Surhoff. "What's that telling you?"

Despite taking the loss, Erickson took Hirschbeck's side. Punished for allowing a pair of two-strike bases-empty home runs to Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado in the third inning, Erickson emerged with a career-high 12 strikeouts and a complete game. Of Hirschbeck, he said, "I'd rather have him behind the plate than anybody. He's the most consistent guy in the league."

A witness for the defense, Erickson (15-13), added, "Everybody knows what it is. You work with it. I'm so tired of [umpires] who call pitches down the middle balls. I think [Hirschbeck] is great."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays

Site: SkyDome, Toronto

Time: 7: 05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (13-8, 3.24) vs. Blue Jays' Chris Carpenter (11-7, 4.47)

Pub Date: 9/22/98

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