Clemens whiffs 15, tops O's, 3-1 Erickson strikes out career-high 12 to no avail

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

TORONTO -- The Iron Man sits, his team gets eliminated from the wild-card race and Roger Clemens is waiting in the next city. Just who's scripting this sadistic play anyway?

Unbeaten since May, Clemens became the first American League pitcher to win 20 games this season, reaching the milestone for the fifth time in his career in Toronto's 3-1 victory over the Orioles last night before 30,380 at SkyDome.

The loss was the sixth in seven games for the Orioles (78-78), who have taken their act on the road for the last week of the season. They're playing for pride now, and their collective egos absorbed another hit.

Gunning for his fifth Cy Young Award, Clemens (20-6) allowed seven hits and struck out 15 over eight innings. His winning streak has reached 15 games, and he's unbeaten in 21 straight appearances.

He may never lose again if pitching to umpire John Hirschbeck's liberal strike zone. Six of Clemens' punchouts were looking, and the Orioles grumbled all night, just as Detroit batters had done Aug. 4 when Mike Mussina took a perfect game into the eighth with Hirschbeck behind the plate.

The Orioles weren't always on the receiving end. Scott Erickson (15-13) struck out a career-high 12 batters, the last two looking.

Toronto (84-73) began the night trailing Boston by four games for the wild card. The Red Sox won the first game of a doubleheader against Tampa Bay. They no longer must check over their shoulders at the Orioles, who slipped to .500 for the fifth time this month.

Clemens had eight strikeouts through four innings, and a 2-0 lead courtesy of homers by Shawn Green and Carlos Delgado in the third. Among the Orioles' three hits was a single by Cal Ripken in his first at-bat since ending his consecutive-games streak at 2,632.

By the time the sixth inning rolled around, Clemens had struck out 11, but his lead was down to 2-1.

Mike Bordick singled into left field leading off the fifth and stole second. Clemens struck out the next two batters, then walked Brady Anderson. Harold Baines, a career .315 hitter against Clemens before last night, lined a single into left field to score Bordick.

It stayed that way until the sixth, when the Blue Jays scored in bizarre fashion. Rather than a run, Jose Cruz should have been given style points.

Cruz led off with a single and stole second with two outs. Craig Grebeck punched a single to right, and Cruz raced home as Willie Greene's throw reached catcher Chris Hoiles on three hops.

Hoiles, who had entered the game after starter Charlie Greene was removed for a pinch hitter in the sixth, fielded the ball up the line and tried to make the tag, but Cruz jumped around his outstretched arm. He missed the plate, then dived for it as Hoiles lunged to make another tag. Cruz alertly pulled back his arms and reached around to touch the plate, bringing manager Ray Miller from the dugout for a brief discussion with Hirschbeck.

Tony Fernandez reached on an infield hit leading off the second, but was thrown out trying to steal by Charlie Greene, who was a late addition to the lineup because of Lenny Webster's painful left shoulder. Darrin Fletcher reached on an error by Rafael Palmeiro, but Erickson struck out the next two batters.

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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