Erickson, Baines stay on roll, 2-1

Unbeaten since June 4, starter 6-hits Expos as DH sets homer mark

`He'll hit until he's 50'

Clark also homers in O's 5th straight win

July 18, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Harold Baines made history last night, Scott Erickson made short work of the Montreal Expos and the Orioles made it possible to reach for the brooms without getting splinters.

Positioned for their first series sweep in a month, the Orioles used a dominating performance by Erickson and home runs by Baines and Will Clark to subdue the Expos, 2-1, before an announced sellout crowd of 47,988.

Limited to four hits, the Orioles (39-51) still managed their fifth win in a row. The sweep was their first since June 14-16 against Kansas City, and avenged a three-game humiliation in Montreal last season. For anyone optimistic enough to be thinking wild card, they also moved within 10 games of Boston in the loss column.

Manager Ray Miller, still stung by criticism levied at his club by Expos manager Felipe Alou last year, couldn't resist returning fire.

"I thought they were a little flat and we outhustled them," he said before breaking into a grin. "No, I'm not going to stoop that low."

Baines stretched the lead to 2-0 in the sixth inning and moved to the head of the class among designated hitters with his 220th homer, surpassing Don Baylor on baseball's all-time list. Never comfortable when the spotlight shines in his face, Baines consented to a curtain call by stepping from the dugout and raising his helmet.

"If I didn't come out they were going to push me out," he said.

Getting a runner home was the least of the Expos' problems last night. With Erickson on top of his game, they were having enough trouble just getting the ball out of the infield.

Of his first 19 outs, only one reached the outfield -- a third-inning fly ball to center by Orlando Cabrera. Catcher Charles Johnson recorded one of those outs by nailing a runner trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt, and another by picking off Michael Barrett.

Only two other outs escaped the infield, as Erickson notched his second complete game with a six-hitter. The Orioles have posted a league-leading 10 complete games, four more than runner-up Toronto.

Erickson, eyed by contenders as the trade deadline approaches, is benefiting from an adjustment in mechanics, the primary goal being to slow his delivery. "I was rushing, getting under the ball and dropping underneath everything," said Erickson, who threw 101 pitches and finished off the Expos in 2 hours, 23 minutes. "I'm more deliberate now and it's paying off."

Recalling how Erickson began the season 1-8 before winning his last four decisions, Miller said, "Scotty's an extreme believer in his ability, even to the point that when the ball is up he still believes they're down. But he's a workhorse. He's 250-plus innings."

The Expos, losers of five straight, raised some doubts in the eighth. A leadoff triple to right by Barrett led to their only run on a grounder by Mike Mordecai. Montreal loaded the bases with two outs on singles by pinch-hitter Shane Andrews and Wilton Guerrero, and a four-pitch walk to Jose Vidro. With left-hander Jesse Orosco warming in the bullpen and Miller watching nervously from the dugout, Rondell White showed the same impatience as many of the Expos' young hitters by chasing the first pitch and bouncing to second.

Though not always armed with his best stuff, Erickson hasn't lost since June 4 against Philadelphia. Four straight no-decisions have been followed by back-to-back victories, with Erickson allowing only three runs.

The Expos should be so fortunate. They haven't received a win from a starting pitcher since June 25. Last night, they were banking on Dustin Hermanson to end the drought. He hasn't seen a victory in more than two months.

A small-market team with seemingly little chance.

The Orioles landed the game's first solid blow in the fourth when Clark lined a fastball into the first row of spectators above the right-field scoreboard.

Clark, who just missed hitting one out on Friday, began last night batting .327 in his last 19 games and .345 in his last 28.

Hermanson tried to get a fastball past Baines in the sixth and was punished again. The ball traveled 443 feet to right-center field, bouncing on Eutaw St. and into the hands of a fan who returned it in exchange for the promise of three autographed balls, three signed bats, five tickets to a future game and a face-to-face meeting with the St. Michaels native.

It was the 369th homer of Baines' career, moving him into a tie with Ralph Kiner for 46th place on the all-time list.

"I was asked earlier if he should be in the Hall of Fame. You're darned right he should," Miller said. "He's always been a great hitter and he'll hit until he's 50."

The Orioles had threatened in the first, with Hermanson needing some defensive help to get away clean. He walked Brady Anderson leading off the inning, and B. J. Surhoff singled to right with one out. Anderson tested Vladimir Guerrero's strong but erratic arm and was thrown out.

More trouble, and another escape, came in the second. Baines, who was 4-for-5 Friday, opened with a double to left and took third on a grounder, but Ryan Minor and Jerry Hairston failed to bring him home.

The Orioles again got the leadoff hitter on base in the third but to no avail.

The pattern continued in the fifth when Bordick walked with two outs and stole second. Surhoff flied to center, keeping the margin at one run until Baines connected in the sixth.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: New York Mets

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 8: 05 TV/Radio: ESPN/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Mets' Masato Yoshii (6-7, 5.02) vs. O's Juan Guzman (4-7, 4.31)

Tickets: 1,200 remain

Pub Date: 7/18/99

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