O's run off Rangers, 8-6

First-to-home sprints by DeShields speed O's 7th win in 8 games

Ripken: 3 hits, near-miss

Tied in 6th, Erickson exits, wins 6th in row

July 29, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Promoted as a leadoff hitter last December, he now bats eighth. Signed for three years, he has been overshadowed by injuries and a prospect who swayed his organization and its fan base in only 24 starts. But within a 8-6 win that included 13 hits and Cal Ripken's near-miss of home run No. 400, Orioles second baseman Delino DeShields reminded a Camden Yards crowd of 41,692 that he remains a player of consequence.

While Ripken produced three hits and three runs and catcher Charles Johnson generated four RBIs, DeShields provided the night's signature performance. Twice DeShields scored from first base on Johnson's doubles into the left-field corner. He advanced what proved to be the game-winning run with a sixth-inning sacrifice two innings after singling home Will Clark with his first RBI since June 13.

The win lifted the 46-54 Orioles within 8 1/2 games of wild card-leading Boston. It also left starting pitcher Scott Erickson (7-8) with a sixth consecutive win, Mike Timlin with his 12th save and Ripken with an eighth-inning foul ball that nearly shaved the left-field foul pole.

For DeShields, it provided a welcome forum.

"When he's playing his game he can really make things happen -- steal bases, go first to home. A lot of guys can't do that. It really means a lot to a ballclub, especially to us. To see him hitting the ball, bunting the ball and running, he can cause a lot of problems for other teams," said Johnson, like DeShields a career National Leaguer until this season.

No fun for the Orioles, this season has treated DeShields especially cruelly. Since he fractured his left thumb gloving Luis Matos' liner during a March 4 intrasquad game, DeShields has spaced 60 appearances between two rehabilitation assignments, persistent lower back pain and a strained hamstring that sidelined him for a month. While DeShields was away, Baltimore became infatuated with rookie Jerry Hairston, who one day will likely become the first position player drafted, developed and deployed by the Orioles since Ripken in 1981.

"He's a sensitive kid who tries hard," manager Ray Miller said of DeShields, who enjoyed his career year as recently as 1997, when he hit .295 with 11 homers, 92 runs scored and 55 stolen bases. "I don't think there's anybody who wants to win more. I think he wants to be a big part of it and I think he's been left out of it."

Miller described DeShields as "devastated" after he strained his hamstring in Chicago on June 19 and returned to the disabled list. He then missed 28 games, creating an opportunity for Hairston. When Hairston was optioned to Rochester on July 23, DeShields returned to boos.

"He came in the first day he was back, sat down in the dugout beside me and asked, `Are they booing me?' " said third base coach Sam Perlozzo. "That's a tough thing to deal with."

Miller theorizes the reception has bruised DeShields, a player who desperately wanted to succeed near his family in New Jersey and Delaware.

"Coming back the first time he got booed by 40,000 people because [Hairston] played well," said Miller. "That's pretty tough. I've been up here 22 years and it ain't a lot of fun to get booed."

DeShields declined comment last night.

On a team noted for its conservative base running, DeShields was twice waved home by Perlozzo on balls that would have brought a stop sign to every other starter except Brady Anderson. Both times, DeShields beat the relay.

"He looked a little tentative to me the first couple games" when he returned," Miller said. "But the minute he gets any kind of success he takes off. It certainly has nothing to do with trying or not. He's always trying. But I think he's a quiet kid and he needs success. Then he frees up and plays. This is one of the toughest parks in baseball to go first to third and he went first to home twice. He's a pretty good player. Plus we had a pretty good third base coach who knew what he was doing over there."

Combined with Ripken and Johnson, DeShields helped the lineup's lower third to a 7-for-12 game with five runs and five RBIs.

DeShields has batted leadoff or second 17 times this season. Last night he showed why, offering a clinic in little ball tactics that drove the Orioles' seventh win in eight games. Facing Rangers starter John Burkett (3-5) with two outs and one on in the second inning, DeShields lobbed a single into short left field that brought the inning to Johnson, who doubled over third base. DeShields scored from first base for a 2-0 lead.

Despite serious interest shown by the Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies, the Orioles ruled Erickson untouchable after last Thursday's 5-2 win in Boston. The rest of the American League had considered Erickson untouchable for much of the last two months. He entered the game 5-0 in nine starts since his last loss on June 4.

For five innings, the Rangers also found Erickson untouchable except for Todd Zeile's leadoff home run in the fourth.

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