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

Conine, DeShields drive in lone runs

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

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

Continuing 4 1/2 seasons of payback against the team that traded him in July 1995, Erickson also 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 effort well. Not only did he win his seventh consecutive decision against the Twins dating to 1997, he left Twins starter LaTroy Hawkins (8-10) with a loss after carrying a no-hit bid for four innings before matching Erickson's five-hitter.

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 suggests an ability to adapt within a season in which his strikeouts have diminished, his control has come into question and his confidence has been shaken.

"You always know in the first or second inning when he's breaking bats and balls are being topped," manager Ray Miller said of Erickson's effectiveness. "But that's as strong as I've seen him since Day One this year. Since Cuba, that's the most consistent I've seen him."

Hawkins, a pinata for opponents who had reached him this season for a .330 average, entered last night's start 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 he faced. A two-out walk to B. J. Surhoff ended Hawkins' run of perfection in the fourth inning. The right-hander struck out four of the first 13 hitters he faced as he repeatedly worked ahead in counts and needed 55 pitches to get through four innings.

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

With Erickson able to contain his former team, the Orioles finally broke through in the fifth inning to ruin Hawkins' no-hit bid and shutout on the same swing.

Designated hitter Harold Baines worked Hawkins for an eight-pitch walk to lead off the inning and Jeff Conine followed with a double into the left-center-field gap. Third base coach Sam Perlozzo successfully gambled that Baines could score from first base. Second baseman Delino DeShields followed with a single to center field that scored Conine for a 2-0 lead.

Conine found satisfaction in the win. "Every time I can look up on the scoreboard and we win a game, and I contributed in some way, then I can sit down here and say I had a pretty good night," said Conine, who has come up big filling in for injured Will Clark.

Just as Hawkins entered with a reputation for finding the bat, Erickson made his 26th start as the league leader in walks and base runners allowed. He was attempting to reverse August's troubling trend that included a 1-2 record and 7.11 ERA. In his previous four starts, which had twice denied him reaching .500 for the first time this season, Erickson had surrendered 43 base runners in 25 innings and walked 15 compared to 11 strikeouts.

In only 10 of his earlier starts had Erickson produced more strikeouts than walks. Miller repeatedly has voiced concerns over the durable Erickson's strikeout-walk ratio.

Only four times has Erickson managed more than four strikeouts in a start, a reflection of his search to rediscover the heavy downward movement on his trademark fastball.

"I was throwing harder last year, which definitely had something to do with it," Erickson said of his strikeouts. "And I had Webby [Lenny Webster] back there. Nothing against Charles [Johnson], 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. 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; it's totally different when it's at 94."

Erickson has suffered one of the most difficult seasons of his career. Following his 0-5 April he overhauled his mechanics, a process that has prevented him from becoming completely comfortable at any point.

A year ago he made 21 quality starts -- six or more innings with three or fewer earned runs -- compared to 11 such starts this season. However, six of those starts have come in his last 10 appearances.

The Twins have served as a panacea for Erickson ever since his trade to Baltimore in 1995. Last night extended his win streak against them to seven. He hasn't lost to them since July 24, 1996.

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