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Erickson blanks Jays again, 7-0 Bonilla's spirit, hitting continue O's closing run


TORONTO -- Bobby Bonilla is a presence among the Orioles. He's the guy running the Orioles' fantasy football league in the clubhouse. In the dugout, he's usually the first one to greet a teammate after success or failure.

But it's his presence on the field that has made the most tangible impact on the Orioles: He has a .322 average, after extending his hitting streak to 17 games last night with a double and a single in Scott Erickson's three-hit, 7-0 shutout of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Erickson, 13-10 overall and 9-4 since he was acquired from the Minnesota Twins in early July, faced just one hitter over the minimum, striking out five and walking none, in the Orioles' final road game of the season. He and Mike Mussina, who beat the Blue Jays, 5-0, Tuesday, pitched the first back-to-back shutouts against Toronto since July 26 and 27, 1986, when Oakland did the trick.

Every player in Toronto's lineup other than third baseman Ed Sprague played in the minor leagues in the last two years. But on this 7-2 road trip, the Orioles beat inexperienced lineups -- Detroit and Milwaukee and then the Blue Jays -- something they've had trouble doing during the year. They should've beaten these teams. They did.

"I wish we had those 18 extra games," said manager Phil Regan, "instead of losing them to the strike. A pretty good road trip."

After Toronto's Shannon Stewart popped out to end the game, Bonilla and catcher Chris Hoiles were the first to the mound to congratulate Erickson, Bonilla shaking his hand and nudging him on the head with his glove. This is a role Bonilla has embraced, that of tireless cheerleader.

His teammates say his presence has been a welcome addition to the Orioles' clubhouse. "He just brought life to this team," said first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. "He's always happy. He keeps everybody loose."

Second baseman Jeff Huson said: "He's brought everybody a little closer together. He does little things. It's not just with his exuberance, it's how he includes everybody in everything. It doesn't matter who it is, he's always got a word of encouragement or a pat on the back for everybody.

"It's like getting a bunch of us to go out to dinner. Ten or 12 guys, instead of one or two. The football league."

Since the NFL season began, the Orioles' clubhouse has been alive with trade talk and talk of bragging rights because of the LTC league created by Bonilla.

"It seems like everything he does is appropriate, too," Huson said. "It's never out of place, never false. It's genuine. If it wasn't, we could read through it."

His production is the real thing, too. Forty-two RBIs in 58 games, consistent offense out of the cleanup spot.

The Orioles led 2-0 after five innings. Brady Anderson singled, and one out later, Bonilla rifled a line drive off the right-field wall, extending his hitting streak. Anderson stopped at third, but he and Bonilla both scored when Cal Ripken singled, the second of Ripken's three hits on the night.

Bonilla singled one out into the eighth inning, and he scored in front of Ripken when Chris Hoiles mashed a double.

Erickson pitching. A seven-run lead. Prohibitive.

"I wish," Regan said wistfully, "the season could keep going."

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