O's drive by A's for 4th in row

Four home runs back Erickson in Orioles' 8-3 victory

Foul tip floors Johnson

'I've never felt anything like that'

May 27, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Upon returning to the Orioles in early May, Scott Erickson projected it would take five starts before his arm strength was up to standards. Judging by last night's effort, he's close to being on schedule.

The Orioles only hope he'll be throwing to the same target by his next outing.

Backed by four home runs, Erickson turned in the Orioles' fourth straight quality start in an 8-3 victory over the Oakland A's before 36,708 at Camden Yards that was tainted by an injury to catcher Charles Johnson.

A foul tip by Ben Grieve in the sixth inning struck Johnson in the groin. He had to be helped from the field after several minutes on the ground, costing the Orioles one of their most irreplaceable players for an undetermined period amid a four- game winning streak.

Johnson said he had difficulty breathing after being hit, and trainer Richie Bancells grew concerned that the four-time Gold Glove winner might pass out. He was taken to University of Maryland Medical Center for a precautionary exam and returned to the clubhouse after the game.

"Right now I'm real sore. I'll have to do a lot of icing, but I think I should be fine. I just don't know how it's going to be when I start running," Johnson said.

"Usually when I get hit, I know I just need a few minutes to regroup. This time I knew right away something was different. ... The doctor said I'm OK. It's just a little swollen. ... This one hit me flush on. I've never felt anything like that."

Greg Myers will start in Johnson's place until he returns. If Johnson has to go on the disabled list, a possibility the Orioles downplayed last night, Willie Morales most likely will be summoned from Triple-A Rochester.

Appearing to grow impatient from the wait with two outs, Erickson threw over to Cal Ripken at third base while Myers hurriedly put on his gear. Grieve singled up the middle on an 0-2 pitch to bring in Oakland's second run, and after a walk, Miguel Tejada singled to reduce the Orioles' lead to 4-3.

Erickson fell behind 3-0 to Olmedo Saenz before striking him out. He needed 33 pitches to get through the inning, then watched the Orioles broaden his comfort zone by scoring four times in the bottom half of the inning.

"I could have easily been out of the inning with no runs," Erickson said. "It would have been nice if C.J. [hadn't gotten hurt] and we all walked off the field happy."

Two other players, A's first baseman Jeremy Giambi and reliever Mike Magnante, also left with injuries, and Orioles short stop Mike Bordick dodged one.

The Orioles reached Oakland rookie left-hander Mark Mulder for all four home runs, including the first by Johnson in more than a month. It led off the third inning and gave Erickson a 1-0 lead.

Ripken moved the Orioles ahead, 2-1, in the fourth inning with his ninth homer. Jeff Conine took Mulder deep in the fifth, and Surhoff opened the sixth with his first homer since May 5. Delino DeShields added a two-run double and Conine doubled in another run.

The Orioles have a long way to go to make up for their sins, but they don't seem intimidated by the distance in front of them. The victory was their fourth in a row and sixth in 21 games.

Before last night, Orioles starters had posted a 3.28 ERA in 10 games. Sabotaged by an unreliable bullpen and occasional offensive blackouts, the starters had only two wins to their credit. Five times they left a game with the lead and didn't get the victory.

Erickson has lived through it. In his last start, Sunday in Texas, he left in the seventh with a 5-3 lead. Poised for his second straight win, Erickson ended up with no decision in a 6-5 loss to the Rangers.

The bullpen was sturdier last night. Struggling rookie B.J. Ryan struck out four in two scoreless innings, and Mike Trombley pitched a perfect ninth.

"You get the starters out there for seven or eight innings and turn it over to the bullpen, that's how it's supposed to be diagrammed," said Will Clark.

Toughness and a little luck kept Bordick from joining the list of injured players. He was struck on the left ear flap by a thrown ball while beating out an infield hit in the first inning, the second freakish incident in two nights.

Tejada made a backhanded stop deep in the hole at short and unleashed a throw about six feet down the line, which drew Giambi into Bordick's path. The ball nailed Bordick at the same instant that he ran face-first into Giambi's glove. Bordick stayed down for a few minutes. He later stood at first base, flexing his jaw and grinning.

Giambi wasn't as fortunate. He suffered a sprained right thumb and departed the next inning.

Seattle pitcher Paul Abbott had to leave Thursday's game after a severed portion of Harold Baines' bat struck him near the right eye, fracturing his nose.

"There's been a lot of weird [stuff] going on the last two nights," Clark said.

Ripken, the hero of Tuesday's victory over Seattle with a walk-off home run, launched a 2-0 fastball from Mulder over the fence in left-center field leading off the fourth. It was Ripken's 411th career homer, one behind Ken Griffey for 28th place on the all-time list.

Surhoff, again lowered to eighth in the order, had been 6-for-49 in his last 15 games and 16-for-104 in his last 29 before connecting. Showing signs of regaining his stroke, Surhoff went 2-for-3 on Thursday for his first multi-hit game since May 7.

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