The Orioles have been a great television team this year -- lots of power, lots of stars -- but that doesn't necessarily mean they've been a great team. The Orioles, manager Davey Johnson acknowledged yesterday, "get hammered" for not doing the little things, moving runners, making adjustments.
But they did the little things yesterday, subtle fundamental plays and modifications that beat Toronto, 5-4, before 46,035 at Camden Yards, and kept the Orioles four games behind the New York Yankees in the American League East. The Orioles gained a game on Seattle in the wild-card race, moving to 1 1/2 games ahead of the Mariners.
Roberto Alomar, who had one hit in his last 19 at-bats with runners in scoring position, singled home Pete Incaviglia with the eventual winning run in the seventh inning. Relievers Jesse Orosco and Armando Benitez (save No. 2) finished the game for Orioles starter Scott Erickson (13-11), who was forced to make the most crucial adjustment of all yesterday in winning his fifth straight decision.
Starting against the Yankees on Wednesday, Erickson had an exceptional sinking fastball, and only two of the 27 New York hitters he faced hit the ball in the air. Erickson had the same type of sinker yesterday, catcher Mark Parent said, but the circumstances were different. Ken Kaiser, the home plate umpire in New York, called a low strike zone. Gary Cederstrom, the home plate umpire yesterday, did not.
"We weren't getting the low strike," said Parent. "When you've got a sinkerball pitcher, you want the low strike."
Parent was not being critical of Cederstrom -- different umpires have different strike zones, as different pitchers throw to different parts of the strike zone -- and Cederstrom and Erickson happened to be a bad match. And, Parent said, Cederstrom mentioned to him several times how he was having a hard time seeing the pitches out of Erickson's hand, the ball, rubbed down with brown mud, camouflaged by the ivy background beyond center field.
Erickson repeatedly fell behind hitters early, forcing him to throw his pitches a little higher, and the Blue Jays hit him hard. Ten of the first 16 Toronto batters hit the ball in the air, and seven of the Blue Jays' eight hits were for extra bases; Carlos Delgado and Alex Gonzalez hit home runs in the first three innings, and Delgado tripled after a double by Ed Sprague in the fourth.
Erickson, then, took a different approach in the middle of the fourth inning, pitching to Cederstrom's strike zone, "a little bit wider [than normal]," Erickson said. "About an inch or two off the corners. I tried throwing as hard as I could to the corners."
Parent said: "I think he [Erickson] got a little mad and turned it up a notch. He's a competitor."
Erickson mixed in more breaking balls, too, and the Blue Jays managed one run and two hits in his final three innings. With Parent reminding him to slow down his delivery, don't rush, don't elevate the pitches too much, Erickson battled his way through seven innings, despite his early trouble.
"He stayed out of the big inning," said pitching coach Pat Dobson, "and he gave us a chance to win."
Third baseman Todd Zeile did something little that turned out to be very big for the Orioles in the first inning. But then, he's been making subtle offensive contributions since joining the Orioles.
In late August, the Orioles strongly considered making a trade for Kevin Seitzer, a high-average contact hitter. Instead, they swapped for Zeile, and based on his numbers -- 20 home runs -- the Orioles figured they were getting another power hitter for their power-hitting lineup.
But, as hitting coach Rick Down sees it, Zeile's approach to hitting is similar to Seitzer's -- patient, short stroke, can hit the ball to the opposite field -- but with more power.
Zeile came up with runners at second and third and nobody out in the first inning yesterday, and Toronto starter Paul Quantrill threw inside, knowing Zeile would be looking for an outside pitch he could hit to the right side, to score the runner from third.
But Zeile adjusted, hitting a grounder to the second base side to score Brady Anderson and advance Alomar to third. Alomar subsequently scored on a fly ball by Rafael Palmeiro -- that run set up by Zeile's grounder, as well. "I don't care what you want to call it, what you want to label it," said Down. "It's finding a way to win."
Incaviglia scored the winning run by doing something subtle. With the score tied 4-4, Johnson inserted Incaviglia as a pinch hitter for B. J. Surhoff, and Incaviglia singled, then moved to second when Chris Hoiles walked with one out.
Johnson thought about using a pinch runner for Incaviglia, who represented the potential lead run. But Johnson figured Incaviglia's speed -- which is OK, but not as good as Mike Devereaux's or Manny Alexander's -- wouldn't be a factor unless somebody hit a ball right at Toronto right fielder Shawn Green, who has a terrific throwing arm.
That's exactly what happened. Alomar, batting with two outs, ripped a hard single to right, and Green charged and came up throwing. "He's got a gun," said Johnson.
Incaviglia, however, had been getting great leads against left-hander Huck Flener, so large that third base coach Sam Perlozzo was concerned Incaviglia might get picked off by Toronto catcher Charlie O'Brien.
When Alomar hit his ball to right, Incaviglia did not get a great jump, a burst of speed on contact. He did have that big lead, though, and knew immediately he would try to score on the hit; Incaviglia said later he didn't even bother looking for a stop-or-go sign from Perlozzo.
The third base coach waved Incaviglia homeward believing the veteran would be thrown out. But with two outs, it was a necessary gamble. "I was pretty much praying for a bad throw," Perlozzo said.
Green made a strong throw, but it was up the line and landed on the grass -- the Camden Yards infield grass, as thick, Dobson says, "as cole slaw" -- and the first bounce sapped its strength. O'Brien reached for the ball but lost control, and Incaviglia, benefiting from his great lead, gave him no chance to recover, sliding across home.
"This is what we have to do," said Johnson. "We have to get it done. To make the playoffs, you have to get it done."
Pub Date: 9/23/96