ARLINGTON, Texas -- Orioles manager Davey Johnson seemed pretty proud of himself. He shuffled his lineup last night for the second game in a row and apparently shook the club out of its offensive doldrums.
The Orioles scored six runs off right-hander John Burkett in the first two innings and pummeled the slumping Texas Rangers, 9-3, to move to the threshold of a three-game sweep at The Ballpark in Arlington.
"My lineup worked," Johnson said. "I think everybody kind of liked it. They're probably wondering why I didn't try it before."
Johnson put second baseman Roberto Alomar at the top of the order and moved regular leadoff man Brady Anderson into the cleanup spot. Right fielder Jeffrey Hammonds was in the No. 2 hole for the second game in a row, with Rafael Palmeiro batting third and Geronimo Berroa seventh. The results were very promising.
Palmeiro hammered another big home run, Anderson had three hits and three RBIs, Hammonds had the second four-hit game of his career and Berroa added three hits.
"A lot of good things happened," Johnson said.
Go figure. This is the same club that lost seven of 10 games on the last homestand and didn't know where the next clutch hit -- or pitching performance -- was going to come from. Was it the new lineup or the change of scenery? The Rangers have lost seven of their last nine games and are in danger of falling out of contention in the American League West.
Right-hander Scott Erickson pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up one run on nine hits to earn his 12th victory of the year, but he was under the gun from the time he took the mound until he gave it up to reliever Arthur Rhodes in the sixth. The Rangers put 12 runners on base while Erickson was in the game, but he managed to work out of a series of jams to improve his record to 12-5.
"Scottie about gave me a heart attack," Johnson said. "I don't think I've ever seen him struggle the way he's been struggling. Everything was up again. On the other hand, he made pitches and battled. I'm proud of him for that. He said he was getting into a groove and would give me seven innings, but I was worn out."
The top three pitchers in the Orioles' rotation -- Jimmy Key, Erickson and Mike Mussina -- just went 18 days without a victory, but Key and Erickson have defeated the Rangers in back-to-back games and Mussina is on deck.
"It was kind of like the football term -- bend but don't break," said Erickson, who had given up 31 hits and 19 earned runs in his previous 15 1/3 innings of work. "I gave up some hits. I made some pitches when I had to, but that's not the position you want to be in."
The Orioles' long-struggling offensive attack finally treated the pitching staff to a low-pressure night. Palmeiro hit his second decisive home run of the series with a runner on in the first inning and the Orioles batted around to score four times and send Burkett (7-9) packing in the second.
Palmeiro has been on a tear all month, but he has saved his best for the team that let him go after the 1993 season. The home run was his 20th of the season -- giving him seven straight 20-homer years -- and his fourth in seven games against the Rangers. He also drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the second for his 12th RBI against Texas.
"I'm feeling good," Palmeiro said. "I'm close, but I'm still not in the kind of groove I want to get into. I feel I will. It has been a pretty decent month."
It certainly has. The Orioles' leading run producer has hit safely in 15 of the 19 games in July, batting .329 with seven home runs and 13 RBIs.
It was Palmeiro's sixth-inning home run on Monday night that brought the Orioles from behind and jump-started the sputtering offense. This time, almost everybody joined in the fun. Seven different Orioles had hit safely by the time Burkett left the mound.
Hammonds hit safely in each of his first four at-bats to tie his single-game career high. He doubled in the first inning and scored on Palmeiro's homer, drove in a run with a bloop single in the second, lined a long double to right-center field in the fourth and singled through the left side of the infield in the sixth. Rangers reliever Ed Vosberg finally got him out in the eighth inning on a fly ball.
Hammonds also has been on a roll the past few weeks. The multi-hit game was his 21st of the year and raised his average to .301. In his last 19 games, he's batting .377 with 16 runs, eight doubles, two triples, six homers and 13 RBIs.
"I'm feeling very comfortable at the plate," Hammonds said. "Hitting between those two guys, you're going to get a lot of good pitches to hit. I'm just going to keep swinging and hope I keep getting the same results."
Rhodes turned in another outstanding performance in middle relief, but stayed out there a little too long. He retired the first 13 batters he faced before giving up two runs on three hits with two outs in the ninth. If he could have gotten the last out, he would have earned his second save because he pitched three innings-plus, but Alan Mills had to come on in a non-save situation to finish up.
The Orioles' offensive onslaught stalled when Texas manager Johnny Oates brought on left-hander Eric Gunderson in relief of Burkett, but the Orioles ambushed middleman Tanyon Sturtze for three runs in the sixth inning to turn the game into a blowout.
Alomar walked to lead off that inning and Hammonds followed with his fourth base hit. Sturtze walked Palmeiro to load the bases and Anderson launched a long drive into the gap in left-center to clear the bases. The 3-for-5 performance raised Anderson's average to .302.
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Site: The Ballpark in Arlington, Texas
Time: 8: 35
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Mike Mussina (10-4, 3.38) vs. Rangers' Bobby Witt (10-5, 3.76)
Back in running
Last night was a welcome relief to Orioles starter Scott Erickson, who had struggled since holding the Phillies to no earned runs in 7 1/3 innings July 1.
Date . ..Opp .. .. ..IP .. ..H .. .. ..ER .. .. ..Res
7/6 .. ..Det. .. .. .4 1/3 .. .10 .. .. ..11 .. .L, 14-9
7/12 .. .Mil. .. .. .6 1/3 .. ..9 .. .. ...3 .. ..L, 3-2
7/17 .. .Bos. .. .. .4 2/3 .. .12 .. .. ...5 .. .. ...ND
7/22 .. .Tex. .. .. .5 1/3 .. ..9 .. .. ...1 .. ..W, 9-3
Rafael Palmeiro has four homers and 12 RBIs in seven games against his former team this season, and 11 homers and 32 RBIs for his career.
Date .. ..H-AB .. ..HR .. ..RBI .. ..BB
April 4 .. 1-4 .. ...0 .. .. .1 .. ...0
April 5 ...1-3 .. ...0 .. .. .1 .. ...0
April 6 ...0-3 .. ...0 .. .. .0 .. ...2
April 11* .2-5 .. ...2 .. .. .4 .. ...0
April 13* .4-5 .. ...0 .. .. .1 .. ...0
July 21 ...1-3 .. ...1 .. .. .2 .. ...0
July 22 ...1-2 .. ...1 .. .. .3 .. ...1
Totals ..10-25 .. ...4 .. ...12 .. ...3
* -- at Camden Yards
Pub Date: 7/23/97