Orioles add Royals to hit list, 7-1

1-2 punch of hitting, starting pitching lifts O's to 5th win in row

Erickson's 1st '99 home win

Bordick hits 3-run HR

chances on bases pay

June 15, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Given yet another encouraging start by Scott Erickson, the Orioles and their purposeful offense extended a successful weekend into a five-game winning streak by beating the Kansas City Royals last night, 7-1, before 37,501 at Camden Yards. For the first time this season the Orioles appear equal to the sum of their parts.

The 26-36 Orioles have won their past four games by a combined 40-4 and trail the third-place-and-fading Toronto Blue Jays by one game.

"I think they're through their tough time. They are playing much better. They're a better opponent than last time," said impressed Royals manager Tony Muser, whose club won the teams' April series and entered last night having won seven of the past nine against the Orioles.

"They've always had the ability to play well; they've got a good ballclub. I said it earlier in the year: this is a good baseball team. They're playing better. They're pitching better. They feel much better about themselves."

Erickson (3-8) controlled the Royals on 18 ground-ball outs to repeatedly escape dicey situations. He got three double plays and faced the tying run only twice after the Orioles grabbed a 3-0 second-inning lead.

Meanwhile, the Orioles reached Royals starter Kevin Appier (6-5) for six runs over six innings -- the last three coming on Mike Bordick's homer to stretch the lead to 6-0 in the fourth. Bordick entered the game a career .147 hitter against Appier with only two RBIs in 47 at-bats.

"It's fun to watch," said Orioles manager Ray Miller. "Scotty can give up two or three hits in an inning and not get scored on because a lot of times his hits are off the plate or a topped ball, then he goes 3-1 on a guy and gets a double play. Hopefully, the tide is turning. Everybody feels better when the starters are pitching better."

"That's a good game right there," said Bordick. "He got big ground balls when he needed them."

Erickson's start extended the rotation's recent recovery. In the past nine games the starters are 5-0 with seven quality starts and a 1.83 ERA. The bullpen has pitched only three innings the past four games, including an uneventful ninth from Mike Timlin last night.

Some discoveries were more subtle.

By playing ahead, risk-taking has become acceptable.

Cal Ripken added to a two-hit, two-RBI game by scoring from second on a close play for the game's second run. Second baseman Delino DeShields successfully challenged right fielder Jermaine Dye for the Orioles' third run.

"That was a big play. He was aggressive," Bordick said. "When you're able to take the lead early, you're able to take aggressive chances, and that one worked out for us."

Rookie catcher Mike Figga made his third start since being claimed on waivers June 3 from the New York Yankees and made an impression on both Miller and Erickson. Besides contributing his first major-league RBI during the three-run second inning, Figga gave Erickson an extremely low target.

He also went along with Erickson's oft-stated preference for minimal off-speed pitches -- only seven of the starter's 121 pitches were changeups or curveballs. Figga may become a regular pairing with the sinker-slider pitcher, at least until Lenny Webster returns from the disabled list.

"If I'm pitching good and hitting all my spots I don't need all those [off-speed] pitches," Erickson said.

A night after the Orioles romped to a franchise-record 22 runs and 25 hits vs. the Atlanta Braves, their offensive exploits continued to mount. With a first-inning single, left fielder B. J. Surhoff became the first Oriole since Rafael Palmeiro in 1994 to build two 15-game hitting streaks in the same season. Ripken also performed the feat in 1992.

Surhoff has hit in 30 of his past 33 games, his previous 15-game streak coming May 9-23. Surhoff remains among the league's top five in average and is one behind New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter for the league lead in hits.

Erickson won at Camden Yards for the first time since Sept. 11. He is still trying to dig himself from the worst hole of his career. His last three starts have provided reason for optimism where before there was mostly confusion.

"I've got to go a game at a time. Whether you're 20-0 or 0-20 you can't try to project 25 games ahead," said Erickson. "I've got to get ready for my next start Saturday in Chicago instead of thinking where I'll be if I'm 3-0 in my next three starts."

Erickson is finally beyond the trauma of having to deliberate over every pitch. Last night he may not have matched his May 9 shutout of the Detroit Tigers, but he was able to trust his assortment.

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