Orioles closer Randy Myers finally arrived at his date with baseball history last night. He pitched a scoreless ninth inning to secure a 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies and became the ninth pitcher in major-league history to accumulate 300 saves.
Myers had waited nine days between appearances. The Orioles had struggled offensively in between and failed to provide him with any reason to leave the bullpen. But the club -- like many who have played the bedraggled Phillies this year -- has bounced back this week, and the milestone was just a matter of time anyway.
The Orioles made the least of 13 hits, but they entered the ninth inning with a three-run lead. Myers, who isn't known for doing things the easy way, walked the first batter he faced, then settled down to strike out the next three batters and regain a share of the American League lead with his 26th save in 27 opportunities.
After a shower of orange and black confetti, Myers was his usual subdued self, accepting the game ball and the congratulations of his teammates in typical low-key fashion.
"It's one more save," Myers said. "It's the one stat that really isn't controllable. Everything has to happen with the team. It's really all a matter of opportunities."
The other major beneficiary was right-hander Scott Erickson, who carried a strong performance into the eighth inning and solidified his claim to an All-Star berth with his 11th victory. It also was a big win for the team, which moved 6 1/2 games up on the New York Yankees and ended the steady erosion of a large division lead.
"Hopefully, we'll pick up a few more before the All-Star break," Myers said.
The 34-year-old left-hander became the second-youngest pitcher to reach 300 saves and did it in the second-fewest relief appearances (627). Lee Smith reached 300 at 33 and Dennis Eckersley got his 300th in his 499th appearance.
It was a historic night, but it would not have been a memorable game if not for Myers. Rafael Palmeiro made three errors in a game for the first time in his career and the Orioles were unable to take full advantage of their biggest hit total since June 9.
Myers had a right to be rusty. He had not pitched since June 22 and it showed when he walked pinch hitter Kevin Sefcik to open the ninth. But he struck out pinch hitters Kevin Jordan, Ruben Amaro and Mike Lieberthal to join Bruce Sutter in eighth place in the all-time save rankings.
"I guess I'm the type of guy who will look back on it later," Myers said. "I'm not a collector of memorabilia, I'm a collector of memories. It's not my personality. I don't have to show someone what I've done. I know what I've done. I don't boast about what I do. That's something to look back on later."
He refused to look ahead, though 400 saves -- and a likely place in the Hall of Fame -- clearly are within reach, maybe in 1999.
"I don't look ahead," Myers said. "I can't even look past tomorrow's game, which begins at 3: 05."
Erickson appeared to have excellent stuff from the get-go, but he didn't have particularly great luck. The Phillies, who lost their eighth straight game, put 12 runners on base during his 7 1/3 innings, and only two of them hit the ball out of the infield.
He worked easily through the first three innings, but the Phillies manufactured a run almost out of thin air in the fourth, and nearly turned a collection of weak ground balls into a big rally.
Mickey Morandini reached first when his one-out chopper to the right side skipped past Palmeiro for the first of his errors. Morandini stole second and Darren Daulton walked before a pair of infield bouncers brought home a run and left the bases loaded with one out.
fTC Rookie Scott Rolen got credit for a single when shortstop Mike Bordick charged his chopper and Palmeiro couldn't come up with his hurried low throw. Rico Brogna drove home the run with a bases-loaded bouncer back to the mound that glanced off Erickson's glove and rolled just far enough away to allow everybody to advance one base.
It would have been a routine double play ball if a leaping Erickson could have speared it, but he didn't have time to fully extend and found himself still facing a base-loaded situation. He finally got a break when Gregg Jefferies lined out to Cal Ripken and Derrick May flied out.
Palmeiro had an eventful night. He committed another error to open the sixth, but redeemed himself in a big way when he leaped high to snag another liner by Jefferies and turn it into an inning-ending double play. He made a third error in the eighth, but also a nice play to flag down an errant pickoff throw by Erickson and several other good plays over the course of the evening.
He even put a dent in his frustrating three-week batting slump. Palmeiro came into the game with just five hits in his previous 47 at-bats and went hitless his first three times up, but he launched a ball onto the flag court in the seventh inning for his 14th home run and pounded a ball off the top of the out-of-town scoreboard for a long single in his final at-bat.
"It was just an up-and-down night," Palmeiro said. "I feel good on offense and defense right now. It's just one of those things."
His second hit, however, was more significant for what it didn't do than what it did. If it had traveled another few feet, it would have put the Orioles ahead by four runs and there would have been no save opportunity for Myers.
The home run was his first in 63 at-bats and it brought an end to a solid performance by young left-hander Matt Beech, who gave up 10 hits through six innings, but held the Orioles to three runs.
The Orioles had runners on base in every inning against Beech, but he chose his worst pitches wisely. He gave up a run in the second inning on a sacrifice fly by Bordick and surrendered a bases-empty home run to Lenny Webster in the fourth before giving up the slump-breaking homer to Palmeiro.
Though it wasn't an offensive bonanza for the Orioles' batting order, there were several other offensive highlights. Newcomer Geronimo Berroa singled in his first two at-bats for his first multi-hit game as an Oriole. Ripken had three hits and is batting .352 in his last 14 games. Struggling Pete Incaviglia reached base three times. And Webster added an RBI single in the seventh to drive in his second run of the game.
Errant at first
Rafael Palmeiro ended a 15-game homerless stretch, but he also committed three errors, only one fewer than he has had in a season twice.
Year .. .. G .. .. E .. .. Pct.
1992 ... 156 .. .. 7 .. .. .995
1993 ... 160 .. .. 5 .. .. .997
1994 ... 111 .. .. 4 .. .. .996
1995 ... 142 .. .. 4 .. .. .997
1996 ... 159 .. .. 8 .. .. .995
1997 .. . 78 .. .. 8 .. .. .NA
Pub Date: 7/02/97