Finally, a grand O's finale

Baines' slam in 10th caps rally, 9-5, for first '99 back-to-back wins

Sox errors, walks open door

Conine homers twice, gets 2-out RBI in 9th

May 05, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

A mystery starting pitcher. Jeff Conine homering twice and playing third base for the first time in his career. Harold Baines tripling for the first time since before the Clinton re-election campaign. Relief pitcher Ricky Bones scoring the winning run after the Orioles rallied from a four-run deficit.

But out of the Orioles' 9-5, 10-inning win over the Chicago White Sox last night at Camden Yards, perhaps nothing was more significant than their putting one win behind another. For the first time in 38 games, the Orioles own a winning streak.

Baines completed two dream innings with a one-out grand slam off White Sox reliever David Lundquist to bump the Orioles to 8-17 and move manager Ray Miller to spread his arms in celebration behind home plate.

"It was fun to watch," Miller said. "I had forgotten what it felt like."

In two innings, Baines drove in five runs, scored twice and compiled seven total bases to finish a game the White Sox controlled before a series of defensive blunders and unfortunate moves by manager Jerry Manuel. The win was the Orioles' first when trailing after eight innings and re-energized a crowd of 37,846, who for the first time this season embraced a team better known for falling down than scrambling to its feet.

"It was a great win and you hope you gain some momentum," said Baines, whose homer carried more than 410 feet. "Everybody played their butts off. And we got some breaks. You need the breaks when you play like we have. You hope it's the start of something."

The win brought Miller a respite from constant speculation about his job security and his team's desire. His refusal to commit Baines too early became his hole card as Manuel burned his bullpen behind Mike Sirotka's credible start.

"Everybody kept saying Baines. I kept saying no," Miller said.

The uncommon win followed the surprise replacement of scheduled starting pitcher Juan Guzman with Scott Erickson, who was followed with three innings of hitless relief and a win for Mike Timlin (1-1).

Miller decided to toggle his rotation decision after Guzman's troubled 3 1/3-inning start last Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals. Guzman complained afterward about his misplaced mechanics. Instead of throwing once between starts, Guzman used Sunday for a second side session.

Bumping Guzman also allowed Erickson to return to his traditional station behind Mike Mussina with the additional benefit of starting on four days' rest.

Erickson originally was projected to start the season in the No. 2 slot but was shifted in mid-March to accommodate Guzman's request not to start the March 28 exhibition in Cuba, and to ease the burden on Miller's bullpen by sandwiching Guzman between Mussina and Erickson.

A creature of habit, Erickson's struggles with mechanics seemed to become more pronounced after the shift. He pitched capably in Havana but, like Guzman, soon lapsed into a funk over mechanics.

Last night's start began much like his previous one.

Always a tough team for Erickson, the White Sox jumped him for three first-inning runs beginning with Ray Durham's leadoff home run. The Sox resurrected the rally with two outs when designated hitter Magglio Ordonez singled and stole second base, inviting a walk of third baseman Greg Norton, who entered with 11 RBIs in 33 career at-bats vs. the Orioles. First baseman Paul Konerko scored Ordonez with a single, and Norton scored the inning's third run on Chris Singleton's infield hit.

"From that point on, he started letting the ball go. It has nothing to do with courage. There's no more fearsome guy than Scotty in the world," Miller said. "But when you get in these things you think so much. You're pressing yourself so much to get the ball in the right place and throw the right pitch you forget to throw the ball."

"He let me go tonight. I've been fighting myself so bad the last few starts it's been a strain just to get to 60 pitches. Tonight I threw the ball like I'm supposed to," Erickson said.

Trailing 3-0, Erickson stiffened, preventing another raid on the bullpen by Miller. However, the White Sox added an unearned run in the second inning without benefit of a hit after right fielder Albert Belle misplayed Durham's line drive into a two-base error.

The error sent Mark Johnson to third base and Ordonez's sacrifice fly pushed the Sox's lead to 4-0. It also increased an amazing second-inning disparity in which the Orioles have been outscored 35-4.

Conine cut into the lead with his first homer to lead off the fourth. Since breaking a 1-for-19 skid Sunday, Conine is 6-for-9 with three extra-base hits.

Erickson plodded on for a season-high 128 pitches, striking out four against three walks.

Meanwhile, the Orioles again staggered vs. left-handed pitching. Sirotka checked them on two hits before leaving with one out in the sixth inning. Before he left Conine brought the Orioles to within 5-2 on his second home run, which landed in almost the identical spot as his first.

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