Orioles make it 13, go for record today

Erickson, 4 homers subdue Rangers, 7-4

September 23, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas -- One run ended for the Orioles yesterday afternoon, but two others of lower visibility continued last night.

Third baseman Cal Ripken left the team and will undergo surgery today on his problematic lower back. The clubhouse he left behind again buzzed the Texas Rangers for a 7-4 decision that extended the Orioles' winning streak to 13 games.

As with this team, starting pitcher Scott Erickson added to his resurgence while right fielder Albert Belle contributed a double and a home run to a game that began badly but ended with the Orioles clinging to hopes for a third-place finish in the American League East.

The Orioles' winning streak, which began Sept. 7, ties the second-longest in club history. A win in today's opener of a doubleheader against the Oakland Athletics would tie the franchise record, set Aug. 12-27, 1973. A sweep would establish a record for the 36-year franchise.

Erickson (15-11) is the only pitcher with four wins during the streak.

Belle, Charles Johnson, Brady Anderson and Jesse Garcia contributed home runs as the Orioles again exhibited efficiency, as well as power, from their modified lineup.

"The biggest thing is I don't want any veterans out there feeling left out," said Orioles manager Ray Miller. "We're talking about the kids. Well, the kids have stepped in and done some things but those veterans have done a heck of a job the whole year. Right now, two things are happening different from the second half: We're getting production from the bottom of the order, and when we bring somebody out of the bullpen they're getting people out."

While the Rangers are staggering toward their third division title in four years, the Orioles appear intent on at least climbing to .500. Now 38-25 since the All-Star break, they are within two games of break-even (74-76) for the first time since a 1-3 start to the season.

No one is more deserving of taking them there than Erickson, the team's most durable pitcher but also one who began the season with misplaced mechanics and a lack of confidence in his spring training work regimen. Rather than a candidate as one of the season's biggest underachievers, Erickson now threatens to lead the staff in victories, the league in innings and the industry in single-season turnabout. He is now 14-3 in his last 21 starts since a horrid 1-8 start.

Erickson took the American League innings lead last night from the Seattle Mariners' Jamie Moyer, who has pitched 223 this season. Erickson has 223 1/3.

"I'm trying. I'm trying," Erickson said. "I'll get what I can out of it."

Erickson spotted the Rangers a 4-1 first-inning lead when Rafael Palmeiro reached him for a two-run homer with one out, Todd Zeile followed Juan Gonzalez's double with an RBI single and second baseman Garcia inexplicably ran away from Roberto Kelly's potential double-play grounder. However, instead of folding with a lineup featuring three rookies and no Ripken, the Orioles administered an even tougher pounding to homer-prone Rangers starter Rick Helling.

Garcia atoned in the second inning for his defensive lapse. Playing in front of about 70 friends and family, the Robstown native pulled his first major-league home run deep into the left-field bleachers.

Two innings later, Belle used his 30th double to ignite another rally. Jeff Conine's fly ball to deep right field advanced Belle to third base and designated hitter Calvin Pickering grounded to a relaxed infield for his first RBI this season and a 4-3 game.

A former 20-game winner, Helling has become a pinata this season. The Orioles turned the game in the fifth inning when Garcia's leadoff single was followed by back-to-back home runs from Charles Johnson and Brady Anderson.

Helling has now allowed an American League-high 38 home runs, including four in three starts against the Orioles. The reversal once again underscored the benefits of Erickson's durability. Motivated by innings, he quieted the Rangers while his run support followed against an inferior opponent.

Having allowed six consecutive hitters to reach during the first inning, Erickson allowed only two more base runners through the sixth inning. The Rangers were unable to place another leadoff hitter.

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