O's get jump, then hold on to trip Twins

Team manages 6-4 win after nearly blowing early 5-0 advantage

"The game got real ugly"

Erickson has 2 errors but still earns the victory

August 08, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

With Jeff Conine back from the disabled list, the Orioles staked struggling starting pitcher Scott Erickson to a five-run lead last night, only to see Erickson make two defensive errors that let the Minnesota Twins right back in the game.

What looked like a potential cakewalk turned into cookie crumble, and the Orioles were fortunate to escape with a 6-4 victory before 40,074 at Camden Yards.

The Orioles won their second straight against the American League Central-leading Twins, who have now lost 39 of 50 games against the Orioles dating to July 1996.

Erickson (5-10) pitched well enough to shake the problems that had been plaguing him over his previous two starts. The Twins scored all four of their runs against him in the third in ning, and only one was earned .

After pitching just three innings in each of his two starts since being arrested in a domestic dispute with his girlfriend, Erickson went seven innings this time, allowing seven hits and one walk .

Erickson has grumbled about the team's defensive play behind him all season, but this time he was his own worst enemy.

The Orioles took a 5-0 lead into the third inning, when Erickson made his two errors and the Twins scored four runs .

On the first play, Erickson made both a poor decision and a poor throw. With one out and runners at the corners, Cristian Guzman hit a little tapper in front of the mound. Erickson fielded the ball and A.J. Pierzynski stopped halfway between third and home.

But Erickson never looked, and his throw to second base went past shortstop Luis Lopez for an error. Pierzynski scored on the play, and Corey Koskie followed with a run-scoring sin gle that trimmed the Orioles lead to 5-2 .

"I had a double play set in my mind and tried to make the play at second." Erickson said. "Then I took my eyes off the ball at first. If I make those plays, I probably get out of it with one or no runs scored. We scored enough runs where it really didn't affect the outcome of the game."

Erickson's troubles were far from over. Conine ranged be hind first base to field a sharp bouncer by David Ortiz, and Erickson couldn't catch the throw from Conine as he ran to cover first base. Two runs scored on that play, and suddenly the Orioles" lead was down to one.

"[Erickson] threw the ball probably as well as he has all year long." manager Mike Hargrove said. "That one inning, he made the wrong decision, throwing it to second. It was ugly, but Scotty gathered himself and got out of the inning without further damage."

The sloppy play continued into the fifth inning, when the Twins made a rare error, and the Orioles loaded the bases with no outs but came away with just one run. Jay Gibbons grounded into a double play, scoring Luis Lopez, and Conine grounded to shortstop, ending the inning .

The run was unearned, after a fielding error by Twins first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz allowed Tony Batista to reach first base with no outs.

"For a while, the game got real ugly on both sides." Hargrove said. "But both teams settled down and played good the rest of the way."

Erickson threw 90 pitches through seven innings, then turned things over to the bullpen. Buddy Groom allowed the first two batters in the eighth to reach base, but Willis Roberts came in and got three quick outs.

Jorge Julio pitched the ninth for his 22nd save.

The Orioles pounded Twins starter Rick Reed (9-6) for six runs on 10 hits in five innings. Reed had been 3-0 since the All- Star break, but the Orioles took advantage of having another big bat back in their lineup.

Conine's return was definitely eventful, as he had ample opportunities to test the strained right hamstring that kept him on the disabled list for 45 games. The Orioles went 22-23 with Conine off the roster, despite being without David Segui that whole time and losing Mike Bordick last month, as well.

Leading off the second inning, Conine hit a little roller toward third and legged out a base hit. On his way back to first base, Conine flashed a little grin, assuring the bench the hamstring was OK.

Two batters later, when Jerry Hairston singled into left field, Conine was thrown out at home plate trying to score from second base. The throw from Twins left fielder Jacque Jones pulled catcher Pierzynski to his left, and Conine clipped Pierzynski's legs but was tagged out after failing to touch home plate.

Mike Hargrove argued the play with home plate umpire Dale Scott, to no avail, but the Orioles were undeterred. Melvin Mora followed with a two-run double, Luis Lopez had a run- scoring double down the first-base line, and Gary Matthews scored Lopez with a bloop single to center.

Matthews had three of the Orioles" 12 hits.

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