Down 7 early, O's stun Jays on HR in 9th

Matthews' three-run blast off Escobar caps rally, 9-8

O's get 3rd victory in row

`You try to put a good swing on it'

Matthews has four hits

Erickson allows 7 runs on 11 hits in three innings

August 03, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - Scott Erickson held the ball for the Orioles last night, and both teams held their tempers. Nobody charged the field from the dugout or bullpen, no punches were thrown, no ejections or suspensions were necessary.

Defeat never came to the Orioles, either, because their opponent relinquished a lead it held since the first inning. And because Gary Matthews gripped a bat at the most opportune time.

Matthews hit a three-run homer off Toronto closer Kelvim Escobar in the ninth inning, and the Orioles rallied from a substantial deficit and another early departure by Erickson to take a 9-8 victory over the Blue Jays before 19,052 at SkyDome.

Escobar walked the first two batters on nine pitches, and Matthews made him pay by crushing a 94-mph fastball to center field. Matthews finished with four hits, none more important than the last.

"He's a fastball pitcher, he throws in the high 90s, so you've got to look fastball," Matthews said. "I've only faced him a handful of times, and the last time here I struck out. You're just looking for a good pitch to hit and try to put a good swing on it. Hopefully it falls in."

Or goes out.

The Orioles, who won their third straight, trailed 8-1 before stirring in the sixth against Esteban Loaiza. They punished the Blue Jays' bullpen, and posted their first win over Toronto this season in five tries.

Jerry Hairston and Melvin Mora reached in the ninth without putting the ball in play. Chris Singleton struck out, but Matthews launched a 1-0 pitch an estimated 406 feet, as the Orioles overcame a seven-run deficit for the first time since July 2, 1995. The Blue Jays were 178-1 at home when leading by seven runs, the other loss coming against the Orioles seven years ago.

"We don't give up, no matter what the score is," said Hairston, who made a diving stop up the middle with two outs in the eighth inning to hold Shannon Stewart at third base and keep the Blue Jays' lead at 8-6. "In this game, anything can happen."

The Orioles had lost 14 of their past 16 against the Blue Jays. Their bullpen provided a big lift last night by allowing only one run in six innings, with Jorge Julio recording his 21st save. And their offense awoke after the fifth, when the Orioles collected nine of their 12 hits.

A three-run seventh, highlighted by Chris Singleton's home run off left-hander Scott Eyre, had given the Orioles hope. They took a lot more from the game, which began with Mora in the lineup as the leadoff hitter and Willis Roberts available in relief.

Both players are appealing their suspensions, handed out yesterday, for participating in Sunday's brawl with the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mora hit his 14th homer leading off the sixth, and Roberts tossed 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

The crowd grew testy in the fifth when reliever Chris Brock nailed rookie Josh Phelps on the left elbow after Chris Woodward homered. Phelps grimaced as he clutched his arm, but he headed to first base.

Erickson applied the first brush strokes to Sunday's colorful melee when he hit Boston's Manny Ramirez. Derek Lowe retaliated against Matthews, and the result was 14 suspensions and/or fines.

When a sense of calm abandoned Erickson last night, only Toronto's offense was to blame. The Blue Jays got a run-scoring single from Vernon Wells and a two-run single by Woodward in the first, and sent eight batters to the plate during a four-run third that finished Erickson.

Erickson has won once since April 28, a complete-game, 6-1 victory over Seattle on July 16. Manager Mike Hargrove also lifted him after three innings in Boston with the Red Sox leading, 7-0. In his past two starts, Erickson has allowed 14 runs and 18 hits in six innings, and his ERA has risen to 4.97.

The Jays had 11 hits off Erickson, and he exited after 80 pitches with the Orioles trailing 7-1. Maybe it's the location. In his previous start against the Jays, on May 2000 in Toronto, Erickson tied a career high by allowing 12 hits in 2 2/3 innings.

Or maybe it's something else. Erickson didn't pitch in 2001 while rehabbing his right elbow after ligament-transplant surgery. Last night's start was his 23rd this season.

"I don't think anything from last year has anything to do with what's going on right now," Erickson said. "I've pitched pretty good the whole year and this is a stretch that's not working out very well. I'm not throwing the ball like I was before, and I probably just need to get the ball back down."

"We've got to find something to get Scotty to be more consistent," Hargrove said. "I think there's something to the fact he didn't pitch last year, but I don't think it's fatigue."

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