O's run by Texas, 8-6

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

Ripken: 3 hits, near-miss

Cut short, Erickson wins sixth in row

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

Advertised as a leadoff hitter last December, he now bats eighth. Signed for three years, he is now overshadowed by a prospect who swayed his organization in only 24 starts. Within an 8-6 win that included 13 hits and Cal Ripken's near-miss for home run 400, Orioles second baseman Delino DeShields reminded a Camden Yards crowd of 41,692 that he remains a player of consequence.

The win lifted the 46-54 Orioles within 8 1/2 games of the wild card-leading Boston Red Sox with only three days remaining until the waiver deadline. It also left starting pitcher Scott Erickson with a sixth consecutive win, Mike Timlin with his 12th save and Ripken with three hits and an eighth-inning foul ball that almost shaved the left-field foul pole.

For DeShields, it provided a welcome forum.

This season has treated DeShields cruelly. Ever since he fractured his left thumb gloving prospect Luis Matos' line drive during a March 4 intrasquad game, DeShields has spaced 60 appearances between two rehab assignments, persistent lower back pain and a strained hamstring that sidelined him for a month.

While DeShields was gone, Baltimore became infatuated with rookie Jerry Hairston, who probably will become the first position player drafted, developed and deployed by the Orioles since Ripken in 1981. DeShields, meanwhile, entered last night hitting .271 with 31 runs scored.

His availability for trade is an open secret, only buffing his status as an underrated weapon.

Last night DeShields stoked each of four two-run innings. Twice he went first-to-home on doubles by Charles Johnson. He drove in the Orioles' third run for his first RBI since June 13. And he bunted what ultimately became the game-winning run into scoring position during the sixth inning.

Combined with Ripken and Johnson, DeShields helped the lineup's lower third to a 7-for-10 game with five runs and five RBIs, four belonging to Johnson.

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, he lobbed a single into short left field to bring up 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. Of those nine starts, seven had gone at least six innings with no more than three earned runs allowed.

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

Erickson allowed four hits through the first five innings but benefited from a double play and, with the exception of Zeile, his refusal to allow leadoff hitters to reach against him. He overcame a lapse in the third inning when he allowed a two-out single to Ivan Rodriguez, failed to check him thus allowing the catcher's 19th stolen base, and then walked Rusty Greer on four pitches. Erickson fell behind Rafael Palmeiro, 2-0, battled to a full count, then blew away the Orioles' former first baseman with a boring fastball to end the threat.

DeShields helped pump the lead to 4-1 in the fourth with a single that scored Will Clark. Through five innings, it looked like enough for the Orioles' innings monster.

But Erickson wobbled in the sixth inning with a three-run lead. He walked Greer and Palmeiro to begin the inning, bringing the tying run to the plate.

Zeile, Ripken's predecessor at third base, lined a single to right field that scored Greer and Lee Stevens' ground ball put the tying run at second base. Needing a strikeout, Erickson repeatedly bore in on rookie center fielder Ruben Mateo, shattering two of his bats before getting a third strike.

One out away from escaping with a 4-2 lead, Erickson couldn't dispose of second baseman Luis Alicea, who punctuated Tuesday's game against Mike Mussina with his first home run this season. With left-hander Doug Johns warming, manager Ray Miller opted to stay with Erickson against Alicea, who entered struggling for a .127 average against left-handed pitching compared to .247 vs. right-handers. Alicea foiled Miller's patience by lining a single to right field. Albert Belle made a strong throw that short-hopped past Johnson as Zeile scored the tying run.

The three-run inning was the largest surrendered by Erickson since July 1. That it followed consecutive walks made the reversal even more deflating.

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