Double shot of Ripken foils Angels

Iron Man's 2 homers lift O's to 8-4 victory, leave him 2 shy of 400

Ties '98's 14 with sore wrist

Johnson `untouchable' as O's win 5th in row

July 25, 1999|By JOR STRAUSS | JOR STRAUSS,SUN STAFF

Believed ready to trade at least 20 percent of their much-improved starting rotation and known to be 9 1/2 games behind the wild card-leading Toronto Blue Jays, the Orioles still squeezed meaning from almost every pitch yesterday while rolling to an 8-4 win over the Anaheim Angels before a record announced crowd of 48,544 at Camden Yards.

Starting pitcher Jason Johnson and third baseman Cal Ripken, among the young and the old of the Orioles' untouchables, played the most memorable roles in the team's 10th win in 12 games, which left them 8 1/2 games behind Boston and Toronto.

Johnson (2-4) won for the first time since June 20 and equaled his major-league win total from last season. Among his three hits, Ripken homered twice for Nos. 397 and 398 of his career only four days after returning from a deep wrist bruise that still causes him flashes of excruciating pain.

Ripken's home runs in consecutive innings leave him with 14 in 245 at-bats this season. Last season he hit 14 in 601 at-bats. It also marked the second time in six weeks that Ripken has enjoyed a multiple- homer game. "Any time him or Harold [Baines] gets a hit they pass somebody," said Miller, referring to Ripken moving past Joe Carter and into a tie with Dale Murphy for 30th on the all-time home run list, plus passing Willie McCovey for 30th all time in RBIs.

The bruise left Ripken inactive for five days. He returned Wednesday in Boston, taking extra time before each at-bat to whip the bat, daring the wrist to give him "a stinging reminder."

"Steadily it's gotten better. There are certain swings you make that hurt. I wish I knew which ones they were," Ripken said.

Now only 43 hits shy of 3,000 for his career, Ripken experienced residual pain on his controversial fourth-inning single that Angels right fielder Tim Salmon was judged to have trapped. Manager Terry Collins disagreed vehemently enough -- and a replay backed him up -- that he was ejected. Ripken's home runs off relievers Al Levine and Shigetoshi Hasegawa caused him no pain, however.

"A couple of times I've had to whip the bat in the on-deck circle just to test it," Ripken said. "Sometimes it's brought me excruciating pain but you need to find out in the on-deck circle before you get to the plate. The last couple days it's felt a lot freer."

Johnson likewise knows the sensation of being liberated. Notified by club officials earlier this month that he is part of their long-range plan, Johnson lowered his ERA to 5.34, allowing two runs on four hits in seven innings.

More impressively, he continued a powerful string of 12 starts in which the rotation is 10-2, has crafted three complete games, surrendered only four home runs and allowed two earned runs or fewer 10 times.

"I've kind of heard it from everybody," Johnson said of the no-trade promise, citing Miller in particular.

How the Orioles would love a do-over for April. A staff that left a 6-16 month with a 6.49 ERA yesterday dropped to a season-best 4.96 ERA one day after getting below 5.00 for the first time this season. The rotation is 20-10 in the last 44 games and has finally allowed Miller to sculpt roles for a bullpen that has spent most of the season in flux.

Continuing his recent RBI surge, Albert Belle put the Orioles ahead for keeps in the first inning by slashing a two-out single to score Brady Anderson. It was Belle's 10th RBI in eight games and ended his career 0-for-9 slump against Angels starter Ken Hill (3-9).

From there, the 44-53 Orioles piled on against five pitchers. By the ninth inning, with Belle leaving the game dehydrated, Miller was confident enough in an 8-2 lead to sacrifice his designated hitter, inserting Arthur Rhodes into the cleanup spot.

A .285 team average is 12 points higher than last season and leaves them trailing only Cleveland. Their crime remains inefficiency: the Orioles lead the major leagues in runners stranded while ranking sixth in the American League in runs scored.

A breakout was unnecessary yesterday as the last-place Angels continued to flounder offensively, losing their ninth game in a row. The first of B. J. Surhoff's two sacrifice flies, Will Clark's fourth-inning opposite-field home run and Baines' two-out single in the fifth inning gave Johnson a 4-0 lead entering the sixth.

The Angels didn't manage a hit until the fourth inning and didn't push a runner past second base through five innings.

Acquired from Tampa Bay for minor-league outfielder Danny Clyburn four months ago, Johnson said he has been told of his untouchable status as general manager Frank Wren takes inquiries from eight to 10 teams. The inquiries are expected to culminate this week in the trade of at least starting pitcher Juan Guzman and perhaps a position player.

"In Tampa, I was start-to-start. If I had one bad start I never knew if I would get my next start," Johnson said. "Here, I can be more relaxed when I'm on the mound. No matter what happens I know I'll be back out there in five days with a chance to redeem myself."

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