Miller, Belle square off in 4-2 win

Slugger nose-to-nose with manager after being pulled in ninth

Erickson goes strong 7

Miller: Failure to run out ball didn't prompt move

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

MIAMI -- Orioles manager Ray Miller got the effort from his starting pitcher that he's been waiting for all season, and a confrontation with his right fielder that seemed inevitable.

Battling flu-like symptoms and the worst start of his career, Scott Erickson held down the Florida Marlins for seven innings last night and was rewarded with a 4-2 victory before 12,851 at Pro Player Stadium that ended a three-game skid. But a double-switch after the top of the ninth inning brought an angry response from Albert Belle, who went nose-to-nose in the dugout with Miller before players intervened.

Belle had completed an 0-for-5 night by grounding to third and not running at full speed as the throw from Mike Lowell pulled first baseman Kevin Millar off the bag. Hyers had enough time to record the out, and Belle never looked back as he walked toward right field.

Miller already had decided to insert Rich Amaral in the outfield and summon left-hander Arthur Rhodes from the bullpen, a move Belle didn't notice until already in right field and waiting for someone to bring his glove and cap. Belle jogged to the dugout, and as Florida's Preston Wilson led off the ninth, television cameras captured Belle yelling at Miller, who waved him away. Jeff Reboulet and Harold Baines then stepped in front of Belle, who has only one homer in his last 21 games.

Miller insisted on keeping the matter private, saying, "What happens internally stays internally and it will be taken care of internally. It's the same as a clubhouse meeting or anything else. I plan to handle it the same way."

Belle was more adamant in his refusal to comment, ordering reporters away with profanities.

Miller said the decision to use Amaral had nothing to do with Belle not running hard on the grounder. "That had no play in it. Rich Amaral knew he was going in if Albert made the last out," he said.

"I was doing what every National League manager does when he's only got one solid pitcher rested and a couple guys on fumes. You take the last [batter] out and hope your closer can do the job. If he doesn't, at least you have a little breathing room if they happen to tie it."

The Orioles (22-36) showed that maybe they're getting the hang of this National League ball, where the pace is supposed to be brisk and the pitching shouldn't induce ulcers. There most assuredly was something soothing to them about the seven innings provided by Erickson. Though still lacking the stuff that saws off bats and creates ruts in the infield, he was good enough to win for the first time since May 9 in Detroit.

Jeff Conine and B.J. Surhoff homered off knuckleballer Dennis Springer, as the Orioles ended the Marlins' winning streak at seven games and avoided a sweep. Surhoff's bases-empty blast in the seventh provided the final margin and made him 10-for-23 lifetime against Springer, including three hits last night.

In his two previous starts, Erickson had permitted 14 earned runs and 19 hits covering just 8 1/3 innings. He needed 124 pitches to get through 5 2/3 in Friday's 9-5 loss to Philadelphia at Camden Yards, leaving him with his worst record after nine decisions and no closer to finding a remedy.

Maybe last night provided the cure. Erickson (2-8) was removed for a pinch hitter in the eighth after rationing the Marlins to two runs and five hits.

Ricky Bones tossed a perfect eighth, thanks to Conine's leaping grab of a would-be Cliff Floyd double, and Rhodes notched his third save by striking out the side in the ninth. It was the first time an Orioles starter got a win, coupled with a save conversion from the bullpen, since May 27 in Anaheim.

"I didn't throw any curveballs and I got some breaks. I threw good pitches when I needed to," Erickson said.

Erickson did little to help himself in the first inning, as the Marlins took a 1-0 lead. Alex Gonzalez singled past the mound with one out, and Floyd walked. Erickson bounced a pitch off Charles Johnson that rolled just far enough for Gonzalez to take third, where he scored on a grounder by rookie Bruce Aven, who barely beat the relay to first. Another wild pitch moved Aven to second before Tim Hyers grounded out.

By the time Erickson returned, rain was falling and he had been given a 3-1 lead. Only one of those elements would go away.

Conine, given the start at first base ahead of Will Clark, crushed an 0-1 pitch into the seats in left. He began the night hitting .358 with four homers and 18 RBIs in his last 32 games, and Miller continues to seek ways to keep him in the lineup. With each swing, Conine seems to strengthen his case.

One of the original Marlins and still hugely popular here, Conine received a standing ovation as he rounded the bases and touched the bill of his helmet before disappearing into the dugout.

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