Erickson stays course, 5-2

His 5th win in row caps sweep of Red Sox, puts a hedge on trade talks

July 23, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- In a season in which nothing has come easy, why should the decision whether to trade Scott Erickson be any different?

Erickson (6-8) continued to right his listing season last night by powering the Orioles to a 5-2 win over the Boston Red Sox to complete a two-game sweep. He lasted eight innings, struck out more than he walked and won an endorsement from manager Ray Miller as someone the club should retain rather than trade as the July 31 waiver deadline approaches.

For a guy who complained about his inability to throw a first-pitch strike for four innings, Erickson enjoyed a fairly productive night. So, too, did Albert Belle, who sparked the Orioles' telling five-run sixth inning with his 21st home run.

Erickson earned his fifth consecutive victory, surrendering eight hits, striking out five against two walks, and once more resembling the pitcher the Orioles couldn't wait to sign 14 months ago to a five-year contract.

The performance pushed the Orioles to their eighth win in 10 games, lifting their record to 42-53 and moving them to within 9 1/2 games of the sinking Red Sox and energized Toronto Blue Jays for the wild card. The Orioles also play 10 of their next 16 at Camden Yards.

"We're not going to give up," Erickson said. "Nobody in here likes losing and nobody feels worse about being in the situation we're in than the players. Guys are busting their tails every day, but obviously we're a long way back."

The win also included closer Mike Timlin striking out the side in the ninth inning for his 10th save and Brady Anderson coming within a home run of the cycle.

The slumping Red Sox on Wednesday scratched Mark Portugal because of back stiffness and instead started Jin Ho Cho last night. Frustrated on three hits through five innings, the Orioles sent 10 hitters to the plate against the fill-in in the sixth, leaving catcher Mike Figga the dubious distinction of making all three outs.

Within a span of six hitters, the Orioles hit for a team cycle, beginning with Red Sox center fielder Damon Buford losing Anderson's fly ball in the dusk for a triple. Consecutive singles by Mike Bordick and B. J. Surhoff preceded Belle's back-breaking shot above the Green Monster. He now has 10 home runs and 24 RBIs in his past 31 games.

Jerry Hairston completed the uprising by singling through the middle on an 0-2 pitch. The rest fell to Erickson, who has amassed 32 innings his past four starts. Club sources said his recent performance has led owner Peter Angelos to urge that he be retained.

If there is any indecision, Miller readily voiced his support.

"He's a horse; he's an innings guy," Miller said. "I know he's had a rough first half, but I know every time I write down Scott Erickson's name, I feel like I'm writing down `Surhoff.' He's going to be out there for nine innings and he's going to give me a great effort.

"Would I prefer to keep him? Yeah, of course I would."

Until recently, there had existed competing trains of thought regarding Erickson.

One faction in the organization believes it best to shop him and the rest of his $32 million contract for a three-player package. The other faction looks at 2000's projected rotation -- with youngsters Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson and Matt Riley -- and envisions Erickson as a necessary innings provider.

Erickson, 31, entered this season 54-36 with the Orioles and seemingly immune to the Camden Yards claustrophobia that causes so many veteran arms to sweat.

The Cleveland Indians, New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals have expressed the most persistent interest in a devalued Erickson. The playoff-bound Indians are desperate for a No. 2 starter. Perhaps more instructive is the going-nowhere Cardinals' desire to obtain Erickson as the centerpiece for a renovated rotation.

But potential trade partners have been given a clear message: Do not offer low-rung prospects incapable of contributing to a major-league team before 2001. "We're not going to trade him for six guys from the Sally League," Miller said.

Erickson, the American League innings leader last season, has been dangled for nothing less than Indians outfielder Richie Sexson, prized infield prospect Enrique Wilson plus a pitcher. The Indians have chuckled their regrets and turned greater attention to tonight's starter, pending free agent Juan Guzman.

Indeed, the better Erickson pitches, the more difficult it becomes for many in the organization to see him in another uniform, especially since his $6.4 million annual salary looks like a bargain if the Orioles are able to receive the 14 wins he averaged from 1995 to '98.

Erickson (6-8) has not lost since June 4. In nine starts since, he is 5-0 with seven quality appearances. Once past his 0-5 April that featured a 9.49 ERA, Erickson is 6-3 with an ERA that has declined after each of his past five starts.

"I'm definitely a lot closer to the pitcher I could be than the way I was before," Erickson said. "There's a definite turnaround."

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