Erickson, Orioles end skid, 4-3

Starter tames Angels for 1st post-op victory despite O's misplays

Belle, Bordick homer

7-game streak over

`is like pulling teeth'

May 17, 2000|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Orioles could not afford to be picky ... not after seven straight losses and a two-week turn-down that was threatening to turn the 2000 season into a rebuilding project.

Their 4-3 victory over the Anaheim Angels last night at Edison International Field included enough errors and misplays to make a grown manager cry, and yet it was about as important a triumph as you're going to find in the middle of May.

It had gotten to the point where there weren't many wheels left to come off. "That's the way these things are broken," said manager Mike Hargrove. "Sometimes, it's like pulling teeth."

Right-hander Scott Erickson worked seven strong innings in his first successful start of the season and, for a night at least, the bullpen put aside six weeks of frustration to hold onto a slim lead.

"It's good to get the monkey off your back," Hargrove said. "I don't think we ever lost sight of the fact that we feel like we've got good people on this team, but you have a tendency to live for the moment."

Second baseman Delino DeShields scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning on a sacrifice fly by Jeff Conine, setting up another potentially frightening scenario for the Orioles and their beleaguered relief corps. But Buddy Groom pitched a scoreless eighth and Mike Timlin retired the Angels in order in the ninth for his third save.

Maybe it wasn't pretty, but it was very necesssary. The bullpen had blown nine saves this year, most of them with bigger leads than one run. The potential was there for another disastrous finish. The Orioles can only hope that it will turn out to be a new beginning.

"This one was a little more important because we had lost a few in a row," Timlin said. "But those are over. Those you can't do anything about. That's the way we approach it."

Two weeks ago, they were coming off an uplifting opening month and looking forward to a 10-game test against the best teams in the AL East. They arrived in Southern California looking for answers after losing nine of 10 to the New York Yankees, Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox.

The offense was uneven, the starting rotation was undependable and the bullpen was a disaster, but Hargrove did his best to characterize the two-week tailspin as a temporary turn of fortune.

"I believe in these guys," Hargrove said before the game. "These things are never fun to go through, but very few clubs go through a season without experiencing something like this once or twice.

"You swear that you'll never get another out and you'll never score another run, and then two weeks later you're scoring a whole bunch of runs."

The Orioles can only hope that time has arrived. They jumped in front last night when Albert Belle greeted Angels starter Kent Bottenfield with a shot into the Angels bullpen in the second inning - his fifth homer or the year - but a series of costly mistakes would help the Angels tie the game in the third and take a two-run lead in the fourth:

Erickson mishandled a bunt that moved Darin Erstad into position to score the first Anaheim run on a sacrifice fly by Mo Vaughn.

DeShields got picked off first base during a fourth inning in which the Orioles put three runners on base and did not score.

Belle allowed a run to score when a rolling single by Erstad glanced off his glove for an error in the bottom of the fourth.

The Angels got their third run when Vaughn's sharp bouncer to first skipped under Conine's glove. It was ruled a hit, but it was a play that should've been made.

Erickson was not overpowering, but he was effective. He was making only his third start since returning from a spring elbow operation and he badly needed something to go right after a 2 2/3 -inning performance against the Blue Jays in which he gave up seven runs on 12 hits.

"I straightened everything out in the bullpen the other day," Erickson said. "I felt pretty good starting the game. I got into a little bit of a jam [in the fourth inning] - I got a little out of whack - but I could tell what I was doing wrong and was able to correct it."

Erickson gave up his share of hits again last night, but held things together until Mike Bordick tied the game with his eighth home run of the year - a two-run shot to straightaway left field in the sixth.

Bordick has been one of the few feelgood stories of the early season. He has never hit more than 13 home runs in any season at any professional level, but is maintaining a pace that would carry him to more than 30 this year. The two RBIs increased his season total to 35 and vaulted him into the league's top 10 in that department.

To fully appreciate the dramatic upturn in his performance, consider that last year - in which he set a career high with 77 RBIs - he did not get his 35th until July.

DeShields, the other hot bat in the Orioles' lineup, got things started in the decisive eighth inning with a leadoff double, then scored on sacrifice flies as Belle and Conine just missed home runs.

It was an uplifting victory, but when someone asked Hargrove afterward if he felt that the slump had finally been broken, he responded cautiously.

"Not necessarily," Hargrove said. "We'll see tomorrow. We need to go out and win again tomorrow night and then see what happens."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Anaheim Angels

Site: Edison International Field, Anaheim, Calif.

Time: 10:05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090AM)

Starters: Orioles' Pat Rapp (3-2, 5.45) vs. Angels' Scott Schoeneweis (4-2, 5.06)

Gaining ground

Scott Erickson showed signs of progress in his third start back after elbow surgery in March: A look:

Date Opp. IP H ER NP

5-16 Ana. x x x x

5-10 Tor. 2 2/3 12 7 58

5-5 N.Y. 6 8 5 72

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