Scott Erickson got the rug pulled out from under him nine
days ago, and it's been nothing but splendor in the grass ever since.
The Orioles suspected that some of the problems that he had in Minnesota were related to the bouncy artificial turf at the Metrodome, so they rescued him on July 7 and have had no reason to regret -- or rethink -- their rationale.
Erickson again kept the ball on the ground and won his second straight game as the Orioles scored a 9-1 victory before 47,159 on a steamy night at Camden Yards.
It wasn't all Erickson, of course. The inconsistent Orioles offense exploded for eight runs in the first three innings to run Royals ace Kevin Appier and help the club's newest starter enjoy a pressure-free Orioles debut in Baltimore.
"The guys really helped me out," Erickson said. "They scored some runs early and played great defense. That really makes it easy to pitch."
The Orioles ran up a season-high 17 hits to halt a four-game home losing streak. Harold Baines led way with a four-hit performance and Brady Anderson doubled three times in the first three innings, but the game turned for good on a three-run homer by Leo Gomez that staked Erickson to a seven-run lead.
He didn't need nearly that much help, surrendering just five hits over seven innings to even his record at 6-6 and drop his ERA to 5.45.
"Erickson was outstanding," said manager Phil Regan. "He got a lot of ground balls and a lot of double-play balls. He pitched like he can pitch.
"I think a lot of the ground balls he got and the double plays are maybe base hits on AstroTurf. It's also a matter of relaxing and knowing that you don't have to make the perfect pitch."
As advertised, he let the Orioles infield do much of the work, allowing only two fly balls to the outfield and recording 16 outs on ground balls and strikeouts.
"We felt that our club plays good defense, so we thought if we got him off the rug, that would be the main thing," said assistant general manager Frank Robinson. "His ERA is a point higher on carpet, so we felt if we could get him on grass and score some runs for him, he would be all right."
Erickson has been more than that. He has provided a major lift to a team that has struggled to overcome a series of time-consuming pitching injuries. The victory last night allowed the Orioles to pick up a game on the first-place Boston Red Sox and buy a little more time until the rotation gets back to full strength on tomorrow.
"Hopefully, we're ready to make a little run at it," Erickson said. "There's plenty of time."
It didn't look like the Orioles were in an enviable situation going in. They had lost the first two games of the series -- one of them in very frustrating fashion -- and were faced with the winningest pitcher in the major leagues.
But Appier (11-6) has lost much of the momentum that made him the most dominant pitcher in the American League in the first half. He came into the game in a rare three-game losing streak and quickly showed why he has been slumping the past couple of weeks. He gave up six earned runs in just two-plus innings on the way to his earliest exit of the season.
Anderson led off the first inning with a double down the right field line and Appier complicated the situation by hitting Manny Alexander in the back with a pitch. Rafael Palmeiro moved
Anderson up with a flyout to center and back-to-back singles by Cal Ripken and Baines gave Erickson an early two-run cushion. The Orioles still had runners at first and third at that point, but Baines ran into the final out when Leo Gomez struck out on an abortive hit-and-run play.
Appier, whose ERA in his past four starts is 9.97, continued to struggle in the second, though the two runs the Orioles scored in that inning may not have been worth the price. Catcher Chris Hoiles pulled up lame on a run-scoring gapper to right center and had to leave the game with a hamstring strain.
The Orioles can't afford much more bad news. The club has used 40 players this year, and Hoiles was just coming out of a season-long slump that has contributed significantly to the team's offensive inconsistency. He spent most of the first half struggling to get his batting average on the sunny side of .200, but was batting .400 (12-for-30) over an eight-game stretch when he stopped halfway to a stand-up double and walked off the field last night.
Anderson kept the heat on Appier, driving home the fourth Orioles run with his second double of the game -- a one-out shot to right-center that scored pinch-runner Greg Zaun and gave Anderson his fourth consecutive multi-hit game.
Appier didn't get out of the third. He gave up a leadoff hit to Ripken and a double to Baines and then gave way to long reliever Mike Magnante. It may have been Appier's shortest appearance of the season, but he left a batter too soon. Magnante immediately served up a three-run home run to Gomez that turned the game into a rout.
That home run had to be a major boost for both the team and its struggling third baseman, who had not hit a home run since July 30 of last year.
"Sometimes, that puts pressure on you to hit one," Gomez said. "Tonight, I went up there thinking, I've got an RBI at third base. Just put the ball in play. I was looking for my pitch. I was looking changeup all the way and he gave it to me."
Gomez went on to drive in four runs, just one shy of his total for the previous 70 games of 1995.
Baines had three singles and a double to raise his average to .318 and Ripken was 3-for-3 to boost his average to .297. Alexander was the only Orioles starter to go without a hit.