A's rock Erickson, roll, 7-1

O's starter loses first in 2 months, allowing 2 homers, 9 hits in 4 2/3

Surhoff sheds rust at 3rd

In A's debut, Appier allows but three hits

August 03, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Their third baseman was in Baltimore, their left fielder was at third base and the bench still wasn't at full capacity. They hadn't won in five days. And don't even mention the wild card.

The Orioles were in desperate need of some good news last night, a diversion from the nasty intrusion of reality.

They expected to find it in a logical place -- the right arm of Scott Erickson. But they no longer can depend on anything.

Given an early lead, Erickson handed it back in the second inning and lost for the first time in two months, 7-1, to the Oakland Athletics before 10,178 at Network Associates Coliseum. Oakland won its seventh straight game at the coliseum to improve its major-league-best home record to 35-16.

Miquel Tejada's three-run homer in the second inning was enough to pin another defeat on the Orioles (46-59), their sixth in seven games. It also made a winner of Kevin Appier in his Oakland debut and put his club five games above .500 for the first time since July 4, 1995.

Appier limited the Orioles to three hits in eight innings, including Mike Bordick's seventh homer. At one point, he retired 18 of 19.

The game had a strange feel for the

Orioles before it even began. B. J. Surhoff started at third base for the first time since Aug. 29, 1996, while Cal Ripken was in Baltimore to have his back examined after experiencing spasms yesterday morning. Erickson broke him in quickly, with the first two balls being aimed in his direction.

Surhoff couldn't suppress a grin as he handled a hard smash from Ryan Christenson and threw to first. He then pulled down a high chopper by Randy Velarde for the second out, looking as though he never had left the position.

"It's always best when that happens," manager Ray Miller said of Surhoff's early chances. "Get them out of the way and everything will be all right. The first one he looked a little stiff, but after that he was all right. B. J.'s a good player. You could put him on the mound and he'd be good."

Jeff Conine had appeared in four games there this season, but the memory of his eighth-inning throwing error on Sunday that brought in the go-ahead run still was fresh in Miller's mind. The manager had no desire to put Conine, who replaced Surhoff in left field, on the spot again in a game that figured to include plenty of infield chances with Erickson pitching.

As it turned out, there weren't enough. Matt Stairs also homered off Erickson (7-9) leading off the fourth, and the A's drove him from the game in the fifth after scoring three more runs for a 7-1 lead.

"Like the whole year, we go as our starting pitching goes," Miller said. "Scottie didn't have it tonight. Right now we're not swinging the bats real well and that's not a good combination.

"Our hitting right now, it doesn't look like we'd hit water if we fell out of a boat. It looks like we need to throw a shutout or have somebody get hot with the bat."

Erickson had won six straight decisions, with his last loss coming June 4 against Philadelphia. He was tagged for nine hits in 4 2/3 innings last night, the most he had given up since June 25 against the New York Yankees. None of the outs was recorded by an outfielder, but plenty of balls found openings there.

"I just got a few balls up and they hit them pretty good," said Erickson, who's 0-3 with a 10.66 ERA against Oakland this season. "I never worry about any loss. You just want to go out there and do the best you can.

"It would have been tough to win tonight anyway, no matter how you look at it, but you don't want to go out there and give up seven runs."

The A's are an unlikely playoff contender, climbing within 2 1/2 games of the losing Toronto Blue Jays in the wild-card race last night but still largely ignored in the Bay Area.

They haven't been over .500 this late in the season since winning the AL West in 1992.

Has anyone noticed?

They had been four games over .500 on four other occasions this season but found it to be like a brick wall. They couldn't break through until last night, having put together losing streaks of six, three, four and two games.

They broke out a new pitcher last night, Appier, who was acquired from Kansas City on Saturday. The uniform was different, but the Orioles recognized him.

They already had beaten him twice this season in Baltimore, combining for 12 runs and 16 hits in 10 innings. The second loss, by 7-1 on June 14, including a three-run homer by Bordick.

Bordick struck again last night, hitting the foul pole in the first inning for a 1-0 lead. It was only the 20th homer allowed by Oakland pitching in the last 36 games, and a league-low 92nd this season. It also was Bordick's first homer since June 30 in Toronto, when he connected against former Oriole David Wells.

The A's do more than just prevent them. The two homers off Erickson gave them 147, second in the majors to Seattle and just two off their total for last season. They've hit at least one in 22 of their last 23 games.

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