Erickson, O's raise roof, 5-0

Pitcher goes distance, as do 2 O's shots to top of Tiger Stadium

Series win is 3rd in row

Johnson in Det.: 4 HRs, 6 RBIs

rotation on roll

May 10, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

DETROIT -- Two weeks after their manager hit his office wall, the Orioles yesterday hit the roof. Twice.

Center fielder Brady Anderson led off the game by reaching Tiger Stadium's right-field roof and designated hitter Harold Baines followed in the seventh inning with another shot that hit the facade, chipping away some of the ageless blue paint adorning this dying place.

Underscored by Scott Erickson's five-hit shutout, the Orioles snatched the three-game series from the Detroit Tigers with a 5-0 win.

No longer crushed by their starting rotation, the Orioles (12-18) continued to rebound behind their innings monster, Erickson. They have won six of their last seven and seven of their last nine. Frustration and bewilderment have yielded to confidence. Able to offset five walks by inducing three double plays, Erickson (1-5) lowered his ERA from 8.44 to 6.59 and continued a pitching staff's rehabilitation.

"It felt better. But I'm still not where I need to be," said Erickson. "You want to get to the point where you don't have to think about what you're do ing. You just do it. I'm not at that point yet. But hopefully this is a step in the right direction."

Erickson, who had lost seven consecutive decisions dating to spring training, had worked with pitching coach Bruce Kison to rediscover the mechanics that had made him the league's premier ground-ball pitcher the past two seasons. The Tigers often helped with first-pitch swings.

Erickson had allowed 47 hits in 32 innings. He wobbled in the first inning, when he walked the bases loaded. He escaped with a fly ball and wasn't seriously threatened afterward, but was bothered enough by the three walks that he headed straight into the low-slung tunnel leading toward the visitors clubhouse.

"I got him going up the hall and said, `That's OK. You'll be all right,' " Ray Miller said.

Erickson proved his manager correct. After permitting three of the first five hitters to reach, Erickson allowed only three of the next 18 hitters to get on base. The Tigers never put the tying run on after the first inning.

The outing confirmed a positive impression made in his previous start, a seven-inning no-decision against the Chicago White Sox Tuesday.

"I felt good after his last start, but I didn't feel good at the end of the first inning," said Miller. "When Scott's filling up the strike zone, you've got to swing. His stuff's nasty. You can't sit around and wait. But when he's missing and missing and missing -- I don't care who you are -- if you consistently go 3-0, 3-2 and then throw a fastball, you're going to get hit.

"Give up three hits in an inning once in a while. I don't care if it's on the first pitch or not. It gives us a chance to make a play."

Erickson's complete game was the Orioles' first and only the 11th by an American League pitcher this season. More significantly, it extended the run in which Orioles starters have pitched into the sixth inning in nine of the last 10 games.

In the past nine games, the rotation has compiled a 3.16 ERA and allowed the bullpen to discover specific roles. In the past nine games, the bullpen has worked 24 innings, including 6 1/3 behind Scott Kamieniecki Saturday.

"I've always said that you don't have to be great, just be relatively consistent," said Miller. "There isn't anything wrong with giving up two or three runs as long as it's over seven innings. You don't like to talk about it. But after a while when it happens, and it happens, and it happens, people start pressing early in the game."

The Orioles easily could have swept the road series if not for Kamieniecki's turbulent 1 2/3-inning start. The Tigers won that game, 7-6, after building a 6-0 lead around six second-inning walks, but were later described by their manager, Larry Parrish, as lucky to take the decision. In taking a third consecutive series for the first time since last Aug. 10 to 18, the Orioles and Erickson allowed no opportunity for flukes.

Catcher Charles Johnson capped his breakout weekend by homering off Tigers starter Dave Mlicki (1-2) in the second inning for a 2-0 lead. The Orioles' No. 9 hitter arrived in Detroit with one home run and two RBIs in 59 at-bats. During the three-game series, Johnson mashed four home runs and drove in six runs with seven hits in 11 at-bats. Johnson's confused, slow bat now appears much quicker and his ability to drive the ball to all fields far greater.

"I was getting pitches 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," he said.

Johnson reached base in nine of 13 plate appearances in the series. He also compiled 20 total bases compared with the 19 he had in the Orioles' first 27 games.

The Orioles had almost as many home runs as singles. They hit nine home runs in the three games and have almost as many in eight games this month (17) as during their 6-16 April (20).

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