Erickson guts it out, gets victory in return

Early escape aids Oriole in first start since 2000 season

April 02, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

His sprint to the dugout yesterday after the first inning completed the great escape. Three walks, a stolen base and a throwing error by his catcher would equate to only one run - the last given up by Orioles starter Scott Erickson.

Great escape, indeed.

Though he wasn't particularly sharp, Erickson punctured the New York Yankees' hopes of beginning the 2002 season with a win. He gutted out six innings in his first major-league appearance in 21 months and gladly accepted the generous run support provided by Tony Batista's grand slam and Melvin Mora's bases-loaded double in the Orioles' 10-3 victory.

Watched by the largest Opening Day crowd at Camden Yards - 48,058 - Erickson allowed one hit through his first four innings while mixing in more changeups than normal. Shane Spencer poked a single into center field with two outs in the second but was thrown out trying to steal by rookie catcher Geronimo Gil.

Erickson also hit Bernie Williams and walked Robin Ventura in the fourth. He allowed consecutive singles to Rondell White and Spencer to begin the fifth, and walked Derek Jeter with two outs to load the bases before Jason Giambi grounded out.

The three hits were all the Yankees could muster against Erickson, who walked five and threw 100 pitches before manager Mike Hargrove went to his bullpen. The run off him was unearned after Gil, trying to cut down Jeter at third, skipped a throw into left field.

In full damage-control mode, Erickson induced a ground ball from new Yankees third baseman Robin Ventura, with shortstop Mike Bordick beginning a critical double play. The crowd erupted as Erickson made his dash for the dugout.

"In the first inning he was struggling a little bit with his command," Hargrove said. "He got in some trouble with the walks but got a big double play on a ground ball to get out of the inning with only one run. It could have been a lot uglier."

Said Erickson: "I was just trying to avoid the big inning right there. I was shooting for the corners on every pitch in the first inning. The last thing you want to do is go out there and give up four or five runs and really dig a hole. I was just trying to keep the ball down and go for the corners. They have a pretty powerful lineup. I was just trying to sneak through it, and luckily I got the double-play ball.

"It was only one run and I knew we had a chance to come back. It's a long game."

Not nearly as long as the gap between victories for Erickson, who hadn't won since July 20, 2000, against the Boston Red Sox. He had surgery the next month to replace a ligament in his right elbow, costing him the entire 2001 season. With Pat Hentgen going through the same rehabilitation this summer, Erickson was anointed the No. 1 starter despite the pronounced layoff.

In keeping with his title, he provided the Orioles' first win of 2002. That it came against the Yankees, the Bronx bullies who refuse to relinquish control of the American League, made it all the more significant.

"Early on he struggled until he got his control straight," Jeter said. "After he settled down, he was the same old Erickson that I remember."

It's hard to imagine anyone in the Orioles' noisy clubhouse who savored yesterday's outcome more than Erickson, though he accepted it in the usual understated manner.

"It felt pretty good," said Erickson, who became the first pitcher to start on Opening Day after missing the previous season since the Florida Marlins' Alex Fernandez in 1999.

"It was a long time doing nothing and just thinking about playing baseball. It's been a long road back and it felt pretty good to get back out there."

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