Erickson silences Twins

Oriole wins battle of 5-hitters, 2-0, for 7th in row over ex-team

O's get 1st hit, runs in 5th

Miller, some players suspect Hawkins spitter

August 19, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Scott Erickson awoke in a good mood yesterday. The Minnesota Twins were still in town.

Continuing four-plus years of dominance against the team that traded him in July 1995, Erickson provided a reasonable facsimile of the performances that have carried him to four consecutive seasons of at least 13 wins. Erickson pitched a five-hit, 2-0 shutout before 38,820 at Camden Yards who lobbied manager Ray Miller loudly on his behalf in the ninth inning.

Erickson (9-10) timed his one-walk, two-strikeout complete game well. Not only did he secure his seventh consecutive win against the Twins dating to 1997, he left the curiously befuddling LaTroy Hawkins (8-10) with a loss after the Minnesota starter carried a no-hit bid for four innings.

The win lifted the Orioles to 53-66, not nearly good enough to lend meaning to October; however, Erickson's eighth win in 10 decisions illustrates his ability to adapt within a season in which his strikeouts have diminished, his control has come into question and his confidence at times shaken. Now Erickson speaks of a strong finish after an 0-5 April.

"Once I got deep in a hole I tried to get to 10 wins before I got to 10 losses. That didn't happen because of [last Friday's loss in] Cleveland. With a little luck in Cleveland I would've been halfway there. It didn't work out. So now I'll try to finish the season strong and get 13 or 14 wins out of it," Erickson said.

Miller thought Erickson's outing was his best since his March exhibition appearance in Cuba.

"That's as strong as I've seen him since Day One this year," Miller said.

Efficient and in command, Erickson never struggled to get ahead of hitters and didn't face multiple base runners until two were out in the ninth. Yet he exited the start with 77 walks this season compared with 76 strikeouts, a baffling ratio for someone who last season struck out 186 against 69 walks.

"I think one reason that he's not a strikeout pitcher is he's walked a lot of people and he's been up instead of down," said Miller, who in three seasons as the Orioles' pitching coach and manager has never witnessed an Erickson loss to the Twins. "Normally in a game like this when his ball is biting real bad he'll get a lot of swings at sliders off the plate because everybody is worried about the sinker. But he hasn't had the sinker going."

Erickson minimized the significance of his deflated strikeout total, saying, "I'm sure any pitcher would take a one-pitch groundout over a three- or four-pitch strikeout. Either I'm not making a good enough pitch to get a strikeout or they're just trying to put the ball in play. But when you throw fastball after fastball it's tough to strike people out."

Erickson concedes he began the season with haywire mechanics. However, over the last two months he has felt increasingly comfortable within his delivery. Diminished velocity is his lingering concern. So, too, is his still-developing relationship with catcher Charles Johnson, who has inherited the role once held by Lenny Webster.

"I was throwing harder last year, which definitely had something to do with [more strikeouts]. Plus, I had Webby back there. Nothing against C. J., but he doesn't know me. He's had to learn 12 new guys, probably more than that. Until he learns I need to throw sliders I'm not going to strike people out," said Erickson. "To be honest, I'm not going to strike out people like last year when my velocity isn't where it was. Last year I was topping out at 97 [mph]; it's totally different when it's at 94."

Hawkins, a veritable pinata for opponents who had reached him this season for a .330 average, entered last night 7-2 since May 26 but having been pounded for a 14-2 loss by the New York Yankees in his most recent outing. He also entered with a career 0-3 record and 11.37 ERA at Camden Yards.

Those trends evaporated early.

A late-breaking sinker baffled the Orioles for four innings as Hawkins retired the first 11 hitters before issuing a walk. The right-hander struck out four of the first 13 hitters he faced as he repeatedly worked ahead in counts. Hawkins' success raised suspicions within the Orioles dugout. Miller and a number of players noted his newfound pitch, one that dove late with only minimal spin, a telltale sign of a spitball.

"Mr. Hawkins was throwing a new pitch tonight. I don't know what to call it. The bottom was falling out of it," Miller said.

With Erickson giving away nothing, the bottom fell out for the Twins in the Orioles' two-run fifth inning. Designated hitter Harold Baines worked Hawkins for an eight-pitch walk to lead off and first baseman Jeff Conine followed with a double into the left-center-field gap. Third base coach Sam Perlozzo gambled that the plodding Baines could score from first base. He won when Baines scored -- standing. Second baseman Delino DeShields followed with a single to score Conine.

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