SEATTLE -- Scott Erickson dispatched the Seattle Mariners last night with the icy approach of an assassin. Not only did he rub out the AL West power, 6-3, he out-dueled 42-year-old Dennis Martinez in a twilight performance.
Offering a dispassionate, efficient performance before a Kingdome crowd of 39,455, Erickson entered the ninth inning having drawn 14 ground-ball outs. The Mariners' powerful threesome of Ken Griffey, Alex Rodriguez and Edgar Martinez was allowed to share an RBI, two broken bats and nothing else.
Erickson (7-1) might have picked up the staff's second complete game had second baseman Roberto Alomar not bobbled the relay on a potential double-play ball in the ninth. Instead, manager Davey Johnson brought on Randy Myers to get the final three outs, beginning with Griffey.
"Scotty was outstanding. I know he thinks I'm Captain Hook, but I wasn't going to let Griffey get them back in it," Johnson said of bringing on Myers, who did relinquish a two-run, two-out double to Jay Buhner.
Six years after winning 20 games for the Minnesota Twins,
Erickson is dominating again because he has been willing to diversify his pitches. He previously worked off a fastball, slider and sinker. By sometimes slowing his slider, Erickson has developed, in effect, a more dependable curveball, a pitch he previously didn't show. By altering speeds on his sinker, he has devised a changeup.
"On his second throw day between starts he always pitches beside Jimmy Key and every other pitch Jimmy throws a changeup. I hope he picks it up by osmosis," joked pitching coach Ray Miller.
Things that used to distract Erickson are now discarded. The Orioles committed two errors behind him last night, but neither elicited a reaction.
"He's got a real good run going right now. He's going about his business," said catcher Lenny Webster, who led the offense with three hits, including his first Orioles home run. "The thing about it is he's not beating himself. He's not walking very many people. When you don't walk guys, you've got a better chance to win ballgames."
Including his last six regular-season starts from 1996, Erickson is 11-2 over his last 14 appearances. Last night was the fifth time he has pitched at least eight innings this year, high on the staff.
That Erickson could exercise such command only five days after last seeing the Mariners suggests that he is avoiding patterns.
"Hitters adjust to pitchers and pitchers adjust to hitters," said Erickson, who joined Key and Toronto's Roger Clemens as the major leagues' only seven-game winners. "Whoever makes the better adjustment wins."
The win allowed the Orioles to avert their first three-game losing skid of the season and restored their lead over the New York Yankees to three games.
"Guys feel good here. We've got a real confident group," Erickson said. "Guys know what they have to do. They know their roles. And they go out there and do it every day."
In addition to Webster, the Orioles used two RBIs from Alomar to prime an 11-hit attack. Given Erickson's performance, it was overkill.
The 26-13 Orioles reached Martinez for five runs and eight hits in 7 1/3 innings, more than enough for Erickson to power to his fifth consecutive win while probably allowing the ex-Oriole enough line to extend his setting career for at least another week.
Sentiment sided with El Presidente. Reality rode with Erickson, who has re-emerged as a consistently overwhelming pitcher.
Erickson allowed the Mariners four hits in the first three innings then slammed them the rest of the way. He faced the minimum 15 hitters from the fourth through the eighth innings, erasing an error with a double-play grounder, before surrendering a leadoff single to Joey Cora in the ninth.
Martinez was buried last Sunday at Camden Yards as the Orioles jumped him for eight hits, a home run and four walks in four-plus innings. Pitching painfully slow, Martinez had needed 100 pitches, barely half of them strikes, to get 12 outs. That loss broke a personal 11-game May win streak for him.
Martinez is no longer in the spring of a sometimes turbulent, often inspirational career. The winningest active pitcher with 241 victories, Martinez had been pummeled for 19 earned runs in his past four starts, a span of 23 innings.
Martinez has lingered in hopes of achieving a personal quest. He remains only two wins behind the Dominican Republic's Juan Marichal as the winningest Latin American pitcher. Imbued with a sense of history, Martinez would love nothing more than to give the distinction to his native Nicaragua.
He entered against Erickson, a pitcher on a roll, and set about matching him early.
Martinez retired the first seven hitters he faced, three by strikeout, before allowing Webster a one-out single in the third.
Forced into the stretch, Martinez then reverted to the form that hurt him last weekend as the Orioles reached him for four consecutive singles. Mike Bordick moved Webster to second and Brady Anderson followed with the third hit for a 1-0 lead. Alomar then completed the three-run uprising with a line single to center field. Bordick successfully tested Griffey's arm, beating his throw home.
The Mariners answered in the same inning against Erickson. Russ Davis broke an 0-for-12 skid with a leadoff single. Rob Ducey replaced him on a fielder's choice, then stole second.
Rodriguez, who entered 7-for-10 lifetime against the Orioles starter, drilled Erickson's 3-2 pitch into the left-center-field gap to close the game to 3-1.
Martinez wobbled further in the fourth inning and would have been lifted if not for a pair of sparkling defensive plays from his right fielder and catcher.
Playing only his third game since April 29, Jeffrey Hammonds led off the inning with an infield single when Rodriguez bungled the one-hopper to his backhand side. Webster singled for the second time in as many innings to move Hammonds to third.
Having already made clear Martinez's uncertain status, Mariners manager Lou Piniella wheeled his bullpen into action.
Buhner probably saved Martinez from his ouster when he made a somersaulting catch in right field to rob Bordick of extra bases. Bordick got a sacrifice fly. The Orioles got a 4-1 lead. And Martinez received a reprieve. The inning ended when Dan Wilson threw out Anderson attempting to steal.
Erickson then continued to bore through Seattle with a previously unseen sharp-breaking curve. After Rodriguez's RBI double, Erickson retired 11 consecutive hitters before a Bordick throwing error, striking out four, allowing only two fly-ball outs and cruising through six innings in 81 pitches.
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Site: Kingdome, Seattle
Time: 10: 05
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Jimmy Key (7-0, 1.82) vs. Mariners' Scott Sanders (0-4, 7.31)
Pub Date: 5/17/97