Erickson's quick pitch ripped, 5-3

Devil Rays' 5-run 2nd sends 0-3 starter to another early shower

O's loss is 7th in past 8

Foe with 12.60 ERA blanks them for 1st 6

April 21, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Toss another question atop the Orioles' season of riddles: Whatever happened to Scott Erickson?

Erickson's lost April continued last night in a traumatic 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays before 17,660 at Tropicana Field. Before his 1 2/3 innings were done, Erickson had tried everything in his power to defuse a lineup that refused him a breath. But the damage occurred too quickly for the Orioles to avoid tumbling to 3-10.

Two games remain on this road trip's forced march. The Orioles are 1-6 on the odyssey and have lost seven of their last eight to fall 6 1/2 games off the division lead and four games out of fourth place.

Manager Ray Miller reminded everyone listening before the game that there were 150 games left in the season.

So what's the good news?

That it's down to 149?

Two days after being stymied by promising rookie Roy Halladay, the Orioles were held by struggling Julio Santana, painted with a 12.60 ERA in his previous two starts. Santana allowed only two singles through six innings and gained his first win since last Aug. 27. His previous outing brought an 11-1 loss, the most lopsided defeat in the Devil Rays' two-year history.

Positives could be found for at least a day within the Orioles' bullpen. Ricky Bones relieved Erickson and pitched 4 1/3 shutout innings. Heathcliff Slocumb, Jesse Orosco and work-starved closer Mike Timlin followed with two more. However, Erickson's labored start rendered what followed irrelevant.

At this rate the game's next .400 hitter won't be Tony Gwynn, Nomar Garciaparra, Albert Belle or Frank Thomas. It will be the American League against Erickson. Last night's eight-hit bludgeoning jacked opponents' batting average to .433 against Erickson, who last year led the league in hits allowed but currently only lacks the innings to contend.

Erickson (0-3) thrives on a heavy power assortment that bores through bats. But in three regular-season starts and much of spring training he has looked lost.

Considered the staff workhorse, he became the third AL pitcher to three losses and failed to pitch at least four innings for the second consecutive start. Dating to spring training, he has surrendered 33 earned runs and 44 hits in his last 27 2/3 innings covering six starts.

During a pre-game team meeting Miller emphasized the importance of first-pitch strikes and pitching down in the zone. Erickson couldn't do either as he needed 61 pitches to get five outs, including 35 in his calamitous second inning.

The Devil Rays tried to jump Erickson in the first inning with one-out singles by Dave Martinez and Jose Canseco. The inning wilted when Mike Bordick ranged far to his left to rob Fred McGriff and former Oriole Danny Clyburn struck out swinging.

The second inning became a labyrinth that spun Erickson with five consecutive hits and six consecutive runners reaching base. A mound visit by catcher Charles Johnson and another visit by Miller to administer a tongue-lashing hardly changed the inning's momentum. Erickson, floundering, had no answers for either. By the time Devil Rays' No. 9 hitter Kevin Stocker doubled home the inning's second run, Miller had his overworked bullpen in gear.

The Devil Rays didn't ping Erickson; they jumped him.

Bordick resembled a human backstop at shortstop, bracing himself to stab one-hop shots and diving to deflect screamers through the middle. Erickson induced a double play for his only outs of the second inning but the white-hot grounder by Canseco nearly knocked Bordick backward.

McGriff chased Erickson with an RBI single to bump the score to 5-0. Erickson has now surrendered 26 hits while securing 37 outs.

Last night's contribution only worsened the starters' plight. In 13 games they have accumulated only 63 2/3 innings, leaving 47 1/3 innings to the bullpen. The rotation's 7.21 ERA explains why the Orioles have led after the sixth inning in only three of 13 games.

While the Orioles haven't pitched all season, they haven't hit the last two games. Sunday represented their first shutout since July 5 and Santana extended their string of scoreless innings to 15 before Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild became impatient with his seamless two-hitter and imported reliever Scott Aldred after Belle walked to begin the seventh inning. Trailing by five runs, the Orioles manufactured a meaningless run thanks to an extra out given them by Aldred.

A one-out grounder back to the mound by B. J. Surhoff was botched when Aldred tried for a forceout at second base. His throw was ruled late and scored a fielder's choice. Jeff Conine, starting in place of injured first baseman Will Clark, walked to load the bases. Willis Otanez, starting in place of injured third baseman Cal Ripken, ripped a sacrifice fly to right-center field that nearly caused a collision between Quinton McCracken and Martinez.

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