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Ripken caps grand comeback Slam ends 6-run 7th, helps lift Erickson, O's past Angels, 8-4

To Cal Ripken, it is a delightful mystery. With his two-out, seventh-inning grand slam the difference in the Orioles' 8-4 win last night over the Anaheim Angels, Ripken stopped to ponder his team's 20 wins in 29 starts.

"Sometimes," said Ripken, "it's as hard to explain why you're winning as it is when you're losing."

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Such comments hint at intangibles, an ingredient thought missing from last year's homer-happy but often fomenting clubhouse. No longer are the Orioles easy marks for competent left-handed pitching. And as Ripken later added, it's now OK for there to be a different hero every night.

This time there were several as the Orioles won for the sixth time in eight games.

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A starting pitcher slogged through four innings, righted himself and grabbed his fifth win.

A backup catcher beat the throw to the plate to score the tying run on a ground ball.

A man forced to limp away from the game two years ago reminded an appreciative Camden Yards crowd of 37,150 why he once was considered another league's most compelling talent.

"When you have a team that's winning, you get contributions from different people," said Ripken. "On a successful ballclub, to quote an old expression, 'There's a different hero every night.' "

Ripken's blast off reliever Pep Harris completed a reversal that looked improbable for six innings. Stymied by left-hander Chuck Finley, they again regrouped the third time through their order. The six-run seventh inning salvaged a win for Orioles starter Scott Erickson (5-1) on a night when he struggled early. For the first time this year Erickson threw more than 100 pitches but he was also sabotaged by three errors, two in the ninth inning.

Randy Myers inherited a first-and-third situation with none out but retired three consecutive hitters for his 12th save.

Before Ripken's heroics, there was Eric Davis. Continuing a tear that is evoking comparisons to 1990, the Orioles right fielder went 4-for-4, including a second-inning opposite-field home run.

"He's been a super talent for a long time, but there have been some things that have kept him out of the lineup," said Ripken of Davis. "But he seems to be healthy now and he's showing what he can do."

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Davis laughed when asked to remember the last time he has hit the ball this hard, this often for this long a span. "I don't want to think back that far," he said.

Clearly, he represents the difference for a team that labored last year against left-handers. The Orioles were 24-25 against left-handed starters in 1996. They are 7-3 against them this year.

Finley didn't offer much early encouragement. The Angels carried a 4-2 lead into the seventh with Finley having retired nine of the last 11 hitters he'd faced.

But the Angels helped out with the most significant defensive lapse within a game pocked by four errors, a wild pitch and a TC passed ball. The Orioles gained an extra out during the seventh when Lenny Webster successfully challenged first baseman Darin Erstad on Brady Anderson's slow grounder. Running on contact, Webster drew the throw and scored for a 4-4 tie. Two outs and a Davis single later, Ripken came to the plate.

"I was relaxed. I just wanted to have a good at-bat," Ripken said. "I had not been getting any hits the past two games, but I still felt good at the plate."

Angels manager Terry Collins countered with reliever Harris. His second pitch finished in the left-field stands.

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The homer was the sixth grand slam of Ripken's career. Ripken is now hitting .476 (10-for-21) with 13 RBIs with runners in scoring position and two outs.

"Guys here are pulling together for one common cause," Davis explained. "A lot of guys in this clubhouse have had individual success. I can see here the focus is on the big prize with this club."

The Orioles continue to hammer starters who attempt to pitch deep into games. Since April 20, no opposing starter has carried a game into the eighth inning. Only six have made it into the seventh.

"It's part of being a veteran team. In this game, you have to make constant adjustments," said Davis, who took over the league batting lead at .388. "If you don't make adjustments, you're not going to have success."

"Guys talk over here," said Webster. "Guys tell each other what a pitcher's throwing. It's a real good atmosphere. You've got guys pulling for each other."

Davis has become something special. No longer the base-stealing threat who once swiped 80 in a year, his bat speed is enough to produce home runs to all fields. Of his seventh home run, the one that barely cleared the right-field scoreboard, Davis said, "You don't get extra credit for hitting one 500 feet. If I can scrape 30 over the wall, that'll be OK."

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Erickson suggested early that this was not to be another in a series of efficient starts. He escaped an eventful first inning that included a single, two stolen bases by Luis Alicea, two walks and a passed ball.

Erickson possessed no such magic in the third inning. Consecutive doubles by Alicea and Jim Edmonds gave the Angels a 1-1 tie. Dave Hollins singled home Edmunds with the inning's third straight hit for a 2-1 lead.

With two outs, Garret Anderson drilled a one-hop grounder to Ripken at third. The ball appeared to skip on the infield cutaway and glanced off Ripken's right ankle for a run-scoring error.

Trailing 3-2, Erickson struggled through the fourth. Jorge Fabregas snapped an 0-for-21 slide with a leadoff single and took second on a sacrifice. The little-ball approach paid off when Erstad singled and Fabregas beat B. J. Surhoff's throw.

In the seventh, Surhoff singled to lead off and scored from first on Webster's double, the backup catcher's second hit since April 5.

Shortstop Mike Bordick then reached a milestone while stoking the rally. He steered a single into right field on his 100th at-bat, raising his average to .200 for the first time this season. Batting .127 on April 25, Bordick completed his climb to the Mendoza Line with a 12-for-37 rush.

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After Webster scored on Anderson's grounder, Davis' one-out single loaded the bases. Finley's last hitter, Palmeiro, struck out.

Given a chance he wouldn't have enjoyed had the Angels played a clean defensive inning, Ripken then greeted Harris by smoking his seventh homer.

"I was kind of anticipating that," said manager Davey Johnson.

It's been that kind of season.

Ripken on a roll

With the exception of Monday's 0-for-4 effort, Cal Ripken has been on a hitting roll:

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Date, Team, AB, R, H, RBI

5/6, Ana, 4, 1, 1, 4

5/4, Oak, 3, 2, 3, 2

5/3, Oak, 4, 1, 1, 2

5/2, Oak, 4, 2, 2, 0

Tot., ...15, 6, 7, 8

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Orioles tonight

Opponent: Anaheim Angels

Site: Oriole Park

Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Angels' Allen Watson (1-2, 5.81) vs. O's Jimmy Key (5-0, 2.21)

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Tickets: 4,000 remain

Pub Date: 5/07/97



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