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 -- Next year's Orioles remain a vague creature. Only eight shopping days remain until the waiver deadline, and a line is forming outside the club's front offices. However, Scott Erickson last night likely made a convincing pitch against his being included in any coming purge.

Again resembling the heavy-ball pitcher the Orioles love, Erickson strong-armed them to a 5-2 win over the Boston Red Sox, completing a sweep of a two-game series before 33,605 at Fenway Park. A trend is developing here.

Erickson allowed eight hits over eight innings, striking out five against two walks, and once more resembled the pitcher the Orioles couldn't wait to sign 14 months ago to a five-year contract.

His performance pushed the Orioles to their eighth win in 10 games, lifting their record to 42-53 and moving them within 9 1/2 games of the sinking Red Sox and surging Toronto Blue Jays for the wild card. The Orioles play 10 of their next 16 at Camden Yards. Might the approaching meeting between general manager Frank Wren and owner Peter Angelos become a little more complex?

Last night's win also included closer Mike Timlin pitching a scoreless ninth inning for his 10th save, right fielder Albert Belle mashing a three-run homer to highlight a five-run sixth inning and center fielder Brady Anderson coming within a home run of the cycle.

The slumping Red Sox scratched scheduled starting pitcher Mark Portugal because of back stiffness and instead fed the Orioles Jin Ho Cho. Frustrated on three hits through five innings, the Orioles sent 10 hitters to the plate in the sixth as catcher Mike Figga contributed all three outs, striking out to start the inning and grounding into a double play to end it.

Within a span of six hitters the Orioles hit for a team cycle. Center fielder Damon Buford lost Anderson's fly ball in the dusk for a triple. Consecutive singles by Mike Bordick and B. J. Surhoff preceded Belle's back-breaking blast above the Green Monster.

A walk to designated hitter Harold Baines chased Cho and brought on Pat Rapp, who immediately surrendered a double to Will Clark. Cal Ripken was walked intentionally and Jerry Hairston, playing his last game before returning to Triple-A Rochester, completed the uprising by singling through the middle on an 0-2 pitch.

The rest fell to Erickson, who has amassed 32 innings in his past four starts. According to club sources, his recent performance has led Angelos to urge that he be retained.

There exist competing trains of thought regarding Erickson.

One faction believes it best to shop him and his $32 million contract for a three-player package, all of whom might be able to help next year's Orioles. Another looks at a projected rotation including youngsters Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson and Matt Riley and sees Erickson as a necessary innings provider.

Erickson entered this season 54-36 with the Orioles and immune to the Camden Yards claustrophobia that causes many veteran arms to sweat. His early-season struggles were attributed more to a funk over mechanics than a drop in talent.

The Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Cardinals have expressed the strongest interest in a devalued Erickson. The Indians are desperate for a No. 2 starter. But perhaps more instructive is the Cardinals' desire to obtain Erickson as the centerpiece for a renovated rotation.

Before the game, Miller appeared to endorse the retention of Erickson, saying, "We're not going to trade for six guys from the Sally League."

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

The better Erickson pitches, the more difficult it becomes for many within 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 project the 14 wins he averaged from 1995 to 1998.

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.

The Red Sox did little against him early. They put two runners into scoring position through five innings. In the fourth, consecutive singles by Brian Daubach and Nomar Garciaparra plus a wild pitch put runners at second and third with one out.

Erickson stunted the rally by getting Troy O'Leary to pop to second base and Reggie Jefferson to ground out. The next time the Red Sox threatened, they were trailing 5-0.

Erickson escaped a dicey sixth inning after the Red Sox loaded the bases with none out. Garciaparra's double-play grounder scored one run, but Erickson got the third out on O'Leary's grounder.

When the Red Sox reloaded the bases in the seventh, Erickson held a 5-1 lead by striking out John Valentin on a changeup, a pitch he rarely uses in critical situations.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Anaheim Angels

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Angels' Jack McDowell (1999 debut) vs. Orioles' Juan Guzman (4-8, 4.53)

Tickets: 5,500 remain

Erickson's roll

After going 1-8 in his first 12 starts, Orioles right-hander Scott Erickson has not lost in his past nine, getting five wins and four no-decisions:

Date Opp. IP H ER Res.

6-9 at Fla. 7 5 2 W

6-14 K.C. 8 8 1 W

6-19 at Chi. 5 2/3 11 6 ND

6-25 N.Y.Y. 5 2/3 12 7 ND

7-1 at Tor. 6 1/3 6 3 ND

7-6 Tor. 7 5 3 ND

7-11 at Phi. 8 6 2 W

7-17 Mon. 9 6 1 W

7-22 at Bos. 8 8 2 W

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