DETROIT — DETROIT -- For most of three months, the Orioles have worn out the American League. Yesterday, they looked simply worn out.
Resembling a team desperately in need of three days off, the Orioles saw their pitching and defense collapse in a 14-9 loss to the Detroit Tigers. It was the Orioles' third straight loss to a team they had beaten 11 consecutive times before Friday's doubleheader nightcap. For losing pitcher Scott Erickson, his 4 1/3 -inning performance represented a career low, as the Tigers raked him without pause.
"We're getting a break at a good time," said shortstop Mike Bordick. "We've had some rough games the last couple weeks. That's going to happen to every team, ours included, but it's probably good to step back a few days and regroup."
Cal Ripken, Jeffrey Hammonds and Alan Mills committed throwing errors. During a seemingly endless five-run first inning against Erickson (11-4), Hammonds appeared to make a sliding catch of Bobby Higginson's liner but was ruled to have trapped it by second base umpire Tim Welke. The Tigers put the extra out and the extra base runner to good use, bringing all nine batters to the plate in the inning.
"He caught the ball," said Erickson. "I thought I had [Higginson] struck out, and I thought I had [cleanup hitter] Tony Clark struck out. But that's not the way it went. I didn't pitch that well."
Higginson capped the Tigers' scoring seven innings later by lining a ball over Tony Tarasco's head that went for an inside-the-park home run, the Tigers' first in four years.
Now 2-2 in his past eight starts since opening the season 9-2, Erickson was making his first appearance since being stiffed by Joe Torre as an All-Star last Wednesday. He made it the worst of his career.
Erickson surrendered more than three runs for only the fourth time in 17 starts and allowed a season-high seven earned runs after four innings and 11 after 4 1/3 thanks to a testy fifth inning. The Orioles, who homered four times, clawed within 5-4 and 8-6, but were unable to contain the Tigers, who had seven extra-base hits.
How fitting that a game that cried for no mas included the major-league debut of Tigers reliever Roberto Duran.
Except for the Toronto Blue Jays and Roger Clemens beating the New York Yankees, which enabled the Orioles to carry a seven-game lead into the break, absolutely, positively nothing went right for them.
Well, OK. Geronimo Berroa hit his first home run as an Oriole. Rafael Palmeiro came within a double of hitting for the cycle, and Tarasco homered for the second consecutive game.
Yesterday marked the first time in 220 major-league starts that Erickson had allowed more than 10 runs. The nightmare caused Erickson's ERA to jump from 3.07 to 3.81, as the 11 earned runs were three more than in his previous five starts combined. He faced 27 hitters, walking four, hitting one and yielding 10 hits.
"We just played like crap today," said catcher Lenny Webster, who contributed two of the Orioles' 11 hits. "Any time you score nine or 10 runs and don't win, that's playing like crap. To say you're tired or hurt everybody has to deal with that. We just didn't play well these last few days. I think the first two weeks we come back will say a lot about the direction we'll take."
The Orioles finished the half a tired 55-30. It was their fourth-best start in club history, but followed a 38-15 rush that had them leading the division by 9 1/2 games on June 4. Twice they climbed to 28 games over .500, only to fall back both times. They lost four straight at home to Toronto, won five straight thanks largely to a three-game sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies, then appeared to collapse in their final three games.
The Orioles didn't lose more than three games in any week until dropping four games in each of the past two.
Though they handed over the majors' best record to the Atlanta Braves on Friday, the Orioles have manufactured the American League's best record despite the protracted loss of Eric Davis, their Opening Day cleanup hitter; intended No. 4 starter Rocky Coppinger, who gave them 10 wins last year; and less-than-disabling injuries to Roberto Alomar and Brady Anderson, both of whom will start in tomorrow night's All-Star Game. Manager Davey Johnson used his projected Opening Day lineup all of four games.
"We need the break," said Johnson. "Everybody's kind of banged up. Hammonds is on one leg, Brady's on no legs, the bullpen needs a breather. It comes at the right time."
The last team to lose three straight games, the Orioles enter the All-Star break leading the AL in team ERA, hits allowed and saves. Pitching has carried them this far, but has shown late signs of fraying.
In the past four games, including Mike Mussina's 14-strikeout effort on Saturday, Orioles starters allowed 25 earned runs, 29 hits and 12 walks in 18 1/3 innings.
The Orioles lost the five-game series Friday, when Johnson was forced to use every available arm during a doubleheader split. Armando Benitez appeared in both games and was out of action when the Tigers scored three times in Saturday's eighth inning for a 6-5 win. Yesterday, Erickson was allowed to go 100 pitches despite lacking anything with bite.
"The bullpen made it rough today," Johnson understated. "I stayed with Scott a lot longer than I wanted to. We used up as much pitching as we had. This team needs the break. Everybody's kind of banged up right now."
Anderson missed his second game in a row with a sore left calf, but will attempt to start tomorrow in Cleveland. Hammonds started and contributed his seventh extra-base hit of the series despite a sore Achilles' tendon. Held out of Saturday's start against left-hander Justin Thompson, Alomar is still weeks away from swinging right-handed. Johnson can only hope Webster continues his recent play while waiting for Chris Hoiles to mend from a partially torn knee ligament.
For yesterday's offense, the Orioles received RBIs from six players. They briefly led against Tigers starter Brian Moehler when Alomar walked and scored on Palmeiro's triple to right-center field. In the day's most ironic ploy, Tigers manager Buddy Bell played his infield close in anticipation of a pitchers' duel. Palmeiro never scored, and the beating then began.
Day to forget
How bad was yesterday's 14-9 loss to the Tigers? Consider the following
* Scott Erickson allowed 12 runs, 11 earned, the most in any of his 220 major-league starts. His ERA went from 3.07 to 3.81.
* The Orioles had lost only two series on June 15. By losing three of five to the Tigers, they lost their third series in 21 days.
* Bobby Higginson's inside-the-park homer in the eighth inning was the first against the Orioles since 1993.
* Cal Ripken, Jeffrey Hammonds and Alan Mills made throwing errors, the first time this season the O's committed three such miscues.
* Mills allowed two runs, one earned, in two innings. His ERA rose from 2.89 to 4.85 in the series.
The Orioles, who entered the weekend with the best ERA in the American League, have allowed double-digit runs only five times this season -- all losses -- but twice in the past three days. A breakdown of those five games, including the score and home runs allowed:
Date, Opponent, Score, HRs
4/23, White Sox, *11-9, 2
4/27, Red Sox, 13-7, 5
6/11, at Red Sox, 10-1, 0
7/4, at Tigers, 11-8, 2
7/6, at Tigers, 14-9, 3
* -- 10 innings
Pub Date: 7/07/97