Tigers stifle sloppy Orioles

Two errors in the sixth lead to 7-4 loss

Erickson ineffective, lasts 4 innings

August 19, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The heat was oppressive, the game progressed much too slowly and the starting pitcher left much too soon.

If only the players union set yesterday morning as its strike date.

Scott Erickson failed to clear the middle innings again, and the Orioles wasted three home runs in a 7-4 loss to the Detroit Tigers before 30,905 at sweltering Camden Yards, where a first-pitch temperature of 99 degrees was the only high point of the season.

Two errors in the sixth inning enabled the last-place Tigers to break a 4-4 tie and defeat the Orioles for the fourth time in six tries. Both miscues involved poor throws to first base, with reliever Chris Brock (1-1) botching a pickoff attempt and Jerry Hairston hitting a runner while trying to complete a double play.

A more pressing issue concerns Erickson, who is 1-2 with a 9.55 ERA in six starts since registering a complete-game victory over the Seattle Mariners on July 16. He has allowed 48 hits in 27 1/3 innings, and left after the fourth yesterday with Detroit ahead 3-1.

Erickson threw 22 pitches in the first inning alone and 71 before Brock replaced him. Eleven of the 22 batters reached against him.

"The fastball was a little bit flat," said catcher Brook Fordyce. "When you establish the two-seam, they have to cheat for that. They didn't have to today."

"I was throwing the ball to home," Erickson said, "and they were hitting it. That's about all there is to it. I'm going through a bad stretch. All you can do is try to forget what's happened in the past."

After missing the 2001 season while recovering from ligament-transplant surgery, Erickson could be feeling the effects of a long layoff, a theory he disputed in Toronto earlier this month after allowing seven runs in three innings.

"I'd like to think that doesn't have anything to do with it," he said after yesterday's game.

"His arm slot will slide and change at times," said manager Mike Hargrove, "and I don't know that it's him constantly trying to find the spot or the fact he hasn't pitched in a year. There are a lot of unknowns there.

"He looks healthy, feels healthy. His velocity is 90, 92. He works hard. He's a competitor. He's got all these things working for him, but he's got things working against him."

Erickson has eclipsed 5 1/3 innings once in his past six starts, with another quick hook coming yesterday.

"I came in and [Hargrove] said, `That's enough,' and I said, `OK.' No debate, no discussion," Erickson said. "I'm sure he's tired of watching me do what I've done for the last four or five starts, so I had no room to argue with him."

Hargrove has no immediate plans to skip Erickson in the rotation, because he's lacking an alternative starter, and the schedule includes a makeup game and doubleheader this week. But the veteran's workload could be scaled back in the next few weeks.

"I don't know that we can afford that luxury right now," Hargrove said. "Maybe later in the month or when we get into September, we might seriously look at that, but right now I don't think we can."

Erickson caught one break yesterday, with the bases loaded in the fourth inning. George Lombard was thrown out at third base while trying to advance on a fly ball by Randall Simon. Matt Walbeck didn't cross the plate before Mike Bordick made the tag to end the fourth inning, wiping out an apparent run.

Jay Gibbons hit his 21st homer in the second inning, and the Orioles tied the game in the fifth and removed the decision from Erickson's hands with a two-run shot by Melvin Mora and a bases-empty homer by Chris Richard.

Bordick's return from the disabled list has pushed Mora to the outfield full-time and further cut into Chris Singleton's playing time. Singleton hasn't started four of the past five games, and he joined Marty Cordova on the bench yesterday.

The outfield will become more crowded next spring when prospects Luis Matos and Larry Bigbie compete for jobs, Jeff Conine no longer is tethered to first base and Richard's shoulder allows him to throw. Some hard decisions must be made.

"We're going to sit down and obviously look at this long and hard, look at who would be available and who would be attractive in a trade," Hargrove said. "We obviously can't carry all of these guys. It's a good problem to have."

There were enough bad ones in the sixth inning. Brock issued a leadoff walk to Lombard and moved him up with an error. Damian Jackson's single put runners on the corners, and Lombard scored when Hairston's throw glanced off Jackson's foot after he caught a liner from Bobby Higginson.

"You don't want to walk the leadoff hitter," said Brock, who gave up consecutive doubles in the fifth to increase Detroit's lead to 4-1. "You're just asking for trouble."

Two wild pitches by B.J. Ryan set up another run in the seventh. The Orioles also had another runner thrown out at the plate, giving them three in the past two games. And Gibbons was caught in a rundown between second and third on Bordick's tapper to the mound with the Orioles trailing 5-4.

Orioles tonight

Opponent:Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Site:Camden Yards

Time:7:05

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Devil Rays' Paul Wilson (5-8, 3.83) vs. Orioles' Travis Driskill (8-5, 4.77)

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