Finally, a grand O's finale

Baines' slam in 10th caps 9-5 victory gift-wrapped by Sox

1st '99 back-to-back wins

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 give manager Ray Miller cause to spread his arms in celebration.

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.

The un common 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.

Miller decided to toggle his rotation decision after Guzman's troubled 3 1/3-inning start last Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals. Guzman, lost since spring training, complained afterward about his misplaced mechanics; Miller immediately reacted by summoning his frustrated pitcher and pitching coach Bruce Kison. Miller offered Guzman the chance for additional side work. 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 for two reasons -- 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 the staff's two most dependable arms, 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.

Erickson relies on a heavy sinking fastball that has made him the major leagues' most dominant ground ball pitcher the last two seasons. To generate power he needs a strong push off his right leg. However, at some point this spring he misplaced the push, sometimes finding himself throwing flatfooted with the same delivery employed on off-speed pitches. His velocity dropped and an attempt to compensate caused him to overthrow. The sink evaporated and he found himself hittable.

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.

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. He nearly buckled in the fifth inning when two hits and an error by second baseman Jeff Reboulet allowed Ordonez to score for a 5-1 lead. Faced with runners at first and third with one out, Erickson escaped by getting left fielder Jeff Abbott to ground into a double play.

Meanwhile, the Orioles again staggered vs. left-handed pitching. Mike 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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