Fans, K.C. turn it up in 15-5 loss

Slocumb's 7-run 9th, lost series to Royals low point for 5-16 O's

Boos, white flags come out

0-5 Erickson lasts 5 2/3, sees progress

April 30, 1999|By JOE STRAUSS | JOE STRAUSS,SUN STAFF

A bottomless April maintained its grip on Scott Erickson, manager Ray Miller and the 5-16 Orioles last night, pulling them to a 15-5 loss before 34,347 dissatisfied customers at Camden Yards.

The league's lowest-scoring team, the Kansas City Royals, managed their fifth comeback win this season with 15 hits and nine walks. Right fielder Jermaine Dye tormented Erickson with a second-inning triple and a sixth-inning double. He scored three times and drove in four runs, accounting for all of Erickson's six runs.

Royals starter Jeff Suppan (1-3) pitched seven credible innings, sidestepping several potential breakouts. The Royals' nine runs in their last two at-bats removed all suspense but still provided Jose Santiago his first save. Erickson lasted 5 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits. All he got was more questions.

This week's clubhouse word is "accountability." Miller emphasized it during Tuesday's 34-minute team meeting. Erickson (0-5) took responsibility for the worst season start of his career.

Asked if he can evaluate himself, Miller said, "It's kind of hard to. If you want me to make excuses or pat myself on the back, we've had four leads with [Mike] Timlin and [Arthur] Rhodes and we've won them all. I'd just like to have a few more leads."

Last night Miller entered the ninth inning trailing 8-5 and handed Heathcliff Slocumb the ball. Despite a seven-run strafing that included two home runs, two walks and six hits, Miller never asked for it back. His refusal to rescue Slocumb incited some fans to pound the top of the home dugout and others to wave white sweatshirts in mock surrender. The Royals sent 11 hitters to the plate before Slocumb retired the side. What was left of the crowd stood, cheered, then broke for the exits.

Miller took this job as one of the game's most esteemed pitching coaches. And even he has to see the irony in this team's downfall. The team ERA swelled to 6.93, including the rotation's messy 7.60. Erickson left the park saddled with a 9.36 ERA.

"I'm going to stay with what I've got," said Erickson when quizzed over whether he is considering radical changes already. "I'm not going to become a knuckleball pitcher overnight. When I make good pitches, people don't hit the ball hard. It's just a matter of consistently making good pitches."

Last night's beating was the most lopsided this season. Though the Orioles entered the sixth inning tied, 3-3, they were undone by Dye's two-run double then came completely unraveled in Slocumb's adventuresome ninth.

Miller and pitching coach Bruce Kison remain perplexed. Working on three days' rest last Saturday, Erickson gave his first quality start of the season, allowing four hits in seven innings in a 3-0 loss to Oakland and journeyman Mike Oquist. Last night was supposed to serve as confirmation of a positive trend, but instead it resurrected old questions.

The Orioles gave Erickson a first-inning lead then worked to give him two ties. None survived the next half-inning.

"Every time we scored, I gave up a run. That's a cardinal sin," admitted Erickson.

Erickson has pitched to both catchers, Lenny Webster and Charles Johnson. Miller last night started Johnson despite Erickson's stated preference for Webster. Miller has noted his results have been the same with both.

"You get worried about a week ago," Miller said. "When I was most worried was in Tampa when he was throwing 87, 88 [mph]. That's way off. But the last two games I've seen 93, 94. It's a matter of concentration. I don't want to hear stuff about who's catching. They've both had equal shots at Webster and Charles. Those guys are probably the two most frustrated people in the world."

While Erickson has rediscovered the velocity he lacked last week against Tampa Bay, he has yet to reclaim his mechanics, having now allowed 38 hits in 25 innings.

Erickson thrives on a heavy sinker that produces the game's highest percentage of ground balls. But he has lacked the attribute since spring training. Miller has cited a "collapsing" back leg, which suggests a lack of push from the mound. Erickson has at times noticed his foot flat on the mound when striding, an indication he is throwing with his upper body only.

"After the first inning tonight I thought I was going to stick it [to them]. I have that confidence every time on the mound. Then [in the second inning] I make two good pitches and they've got two runs," he said. "I'm making one bad pitch and it's getting smoked."

As is his team. Having lost 13 of their last 16, the Orioles still haven't won a series since mid-September. They are now without consecutive wins in their last 34 games dating to last season. They have surrendered 11 or more runs in three of their last eight games.

"I have a tremendous amount of pride. Boy, is it being taxed," Miller said. "Bear in mind I'm managing a club that's 5-16 now. You have to stay with the people you have."

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