Delivery men make U-turn for O's

Sidelight

Timely pitching, hitting reverse sagging start

May 10, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Almost lost within the struggles of the Orioles' rotation last month were the bouts of ineptitude from their offense. The starters couldn't escape the early innings, and the bats usually couldn't cover their mistakes because of repeated failures to deliver with runners in scoring position.

Neither side has been overly dependent on the other these days, coinciding with the club's most impressive stretch of the season. Scott Erickson gave the Orioles their first complete game yesterday in a 5-0 victory, and the hitters gave Detroit pitching more headaches.

The Orioles hit three home runs yesterday, raising their total to nine in the series. They've already hit 17 this month, compared to 20 in April.

Brady Anderson opened the first inning by depositing a fastball from Dave Mlicki on the roof in right field, the 32nd leadoff homer of his career, moving him ahead of Devon White into third place on baseball's all-time list. He never had put one there before, he said, the closest being a shot off the facade in the early '90s.

The crowning achievement of his career? "I'd have to think about that. There are so few to choose from," he said.

With one out in the second inning, catcher Charles Johnson continued his long-ball rampage by belting his fourth homer in three games. This one crashed into the facing of the upper deck in left, giving the Orioles a 2-0 lead.

Hitting coach Terry Crowley has been working to shorten Johnson's swing, and the results are imprinted all over Tiger Stadium.

"It's short and to the ball," said manager Ray Miller, "and he's such a massively strong man that if he makes any kind of consistent contact, he'll hit a lot of home runs."

"I was able to put the bat on the ball," Johnson said. "I was getting pitches pretty much up in the zone and over the plate, and drove them out of the ballpark. I just hope I can continue to be consistent with what I'm doing.

"It was a very positive series for me. I was able to get some balls out of the ballpark, but I really wasn't trying to do it."

"Yes, you were," Jeff Conine said as he strolled past.

"I've been working with Conine a lot," Johnson said.

The third blast came from Harold Baines, who connected off fireballer Matt Anderson with a runner aboard in the seventh.

Left-hander C. J. Nitkowski was replaced by Anderson with Albert Belle coming up, giving the Tigers a more favorable matchup. Belle struck out looking, but manager Larry Parrish stayed with his right-hander as Baines was announced. Advantage, Orioles.

Baines' homer hit the facade of the roof in right field, about 82 feet above the 370-foot sign.

"Those are three of the hardest-hit home runs I've ever seen by one team in a game. All three of those balls were smoked," Miller said.

"Harold knocked about two gallons of dried paint off the top of that building."

The Orioles came into yesterday with 34 homers, ranking ahead of only three teams.

"I don't want people trying to hit home runs," Miller said. "What I like is we're making a lot of outs on line drives, which means people are trying to get on top of the ball."

Just as Crowley preaches.

"You don't want to see guys getting under the ball too much. Stay on top of it and use the whole field. That's pretty much going to be our strategy until the last game of the season," he said.

"I always feel like when you leave spring training, you try to get the hitters ready for the long haul. It's always nice to come out of the gates on fire, but it's a long season and you pretty much have to have a steady approach to everything.

"You try not to panic when things aren't going too good, and when things are going good you just step back and let the players enjoy it."

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