This is how well things are going for the Orioles: Scott Erickson has won his first two decisions of the season and catcher Chris Hoiles is batting .303. Even the slow starters are off to fast starts.
Erickson is off to the best start of his career, in fact. He had never before started a season with two straight wins, but he threw eight strong innings last night to defeat the Minnesota Twins, 4-2, before 36,288 at Camden Yards.
OK, so maybe 2-0 isn't all that exciting, but when you consider that Erickson came into 1997 with a career 5-15 record in April, and when you consider that he came into the season with a groin strain, this is a pretty positive development. Make that another pretty positive development.
The victory was the fourth in a row for the Orioles, who have opened the season with eight victories in their first 10 games. They got a big insurance run in the eighth inning on a single from outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds, who has been another unexpected delight. They got a big hit from slumping B. J. Surhoff. Streaking Brady Anderson reached base three more times. Reliever Randy Myers closed out the ninth for his fifth save in five attempts.
The era of good feelings has begun. The Orioles have exceeded all early-season expectations and are showing no sign of the roster vulnerability that eventually turned around last year's quick start.
Everything that could go right did, right down to the decision to hold Erickson back several days to make last night's start against the team with which he spent the first 5 1/2 years of his major-league career. He gave up just five hits and used his sinker so effectively that he got 16 outs on ground balls, including three double plays.
"That reminded me of Scotty last September," said manager Davey Johnson. "He just seemed to get into a zone there after the first few innings. When you get that many ground balls with our defense, you're going to have some fun. If Scotty does that all season, he's going to have some kind of year."
Erickson, 21-8 in September and October, faced the minimum 15 batters over his final five innings, allowing only one hit.
"I hadn't pitched in a few days so I didn't want to overthrow. I just wanted to let the defense do the job behind me," Erickson said.
Erickson, who last appeared on April 4, originally was scheduled to pitch Thursday night in Kansas City, but was pushed back in the rotation after the game was postponed because of icy rain. He wasn't thrilled to wait another four days to take the mound, but Johnson wanted to keep Mike Mussina and Jimmy Key on their regular schedules.
"Sometimes that happens," Erickson said. "It's unfortunate that the weather causes things like that to happen, but it worked out OK."
Mussina and Key pitched outstanding games over the weekend and Erickson got some extra time to shake off a nagging groin strain. He looked a little rusty in the early innings, but settled down in time to extend a string of solid performances by the Orioles starting rotation. In the last five games, Orioles starters have worked 36 innings and given up just eight earned runs, for a combined 2.00 ERA.
Erickson struck out Rich Becker to start the game, but bounced a curveball off the helmet of former teammate Chuck Knoblauch and gave up back-to-back singles to Matt Lawton and Terry Steinbach for a run.
The heart of the Twins' lineup nicked him again in the third, when Lawton tripled off the top of the center-field fence and Steinbach brought him home with a sacrifice fly to center.
It wasn't an awe-inspiring performance by Erickson, who struck out four and walked two in only his seventh career win in April, but it was more than good enough to put a hot club in position to win.
The Orioles came back to score three times in the bottom of the third inning and might have broken the game open if not for a spectacular play by Twins shortstop Pat Meares.
Twins starter Bob Tewksbury (0-2) struggled badly in the third, allowing the first four batters to reach base before getting Eric Davis on a called third strike for the first out of the inning. Roberto Alomar drove in the first Baltimore run with an infield hit and the Orioles got two more on back-to-back one-out singles by Cal Ripken and Surhoff.
The inning might have been much bigger if Meares had not lunged far to his right to snag a sharp one-hopper by Hammonds and turn a flashy double play to get Tewksbury out of trouble.
Erickson couldn't complain about his defense either. Ripken ranged far to his left and made a full reverse pivot to gun down Knoblauch in the second inning, then turned a nice double play on a sharp grounder by Meares in the fourth. Ripken leads the club with three errors, but he has made several spectacular plays during the first two weeks of the season and appears to be adapting well at third base.
"I was able to get a lot of ground balls," Erickson said, "and I was fortunate that most of them were hit at someone. We've got an excellent, sure-handed defense, with possibly four guys who could win Gold Gloves."
Both starters collected themselves after the third inning. Erickson did not give up another hit until the eighth and Tewksbury allowed just a single to Ripken during the middle innings on the way to a seven-inning performance in which he gave up just three runs on seven hits.
"Tewks pitched a terrific game for us," Minnesota manager Tom Kelly said. "Hold that lineup to three runs, I think most managers would take that."
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 35
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Twins' Scott Aldred (1-0, 6.97) vs. Orioles' Scott Kamieniecki (0-0, 5.06)
Tickets: About 9,000 remain
Pub Date: 4/15/97