And one of the sweetest.
Right-hander Scott Erickson worked into the ninth and gave up just five hits. Randy Myers recorded his 39th save. The Orioles scored three times in the first inning and never looked back on the way to a 3-1 victory before a sellout crowd of 47,785 at Camden Yards that still had time to catch a late movie after the game.
"This might be our year," mused manager Davey Johnson. "It's not a blizzard year, but this might be our year."
What was his first clue? The fact that the Orioles are 37 games over .500 and on pace to win 105 games this year? Erickson's 8 1/3 -inning performance and 15th victory of the season? Myers' third save in three days?
Each of the Orioles' three world titles took place after Baltimore had dug itself out of a snowbound winter. This past winter was relatively mild, but the Orioles have put the big chill on the rest of the American League and seem destined to spend the entire regular season in first place.
The club has been able to maintain a reasonably comfortable lead over the second-place New York Yankees (who lost in Seattle last night to fall six games back) and stands to get back second baseman Roberto Alomar soon. The Orioles also were buoyed yesterday by the return of outfielder Eric Davis, who hopes to get back in shape to help the club in September.
"We're playing good," Johnson said. "We're not overpowering anybody, but Robbie coming back should be a big shot in the arm and Eric coming in is a big shot in the arm. Just seeing them and having them around here is great. That's not to take anything away from anybody here. We've played exceptionally well when those guys weren't here, but it's good to also see the guys who were here out of the chute."
The Orioles didn't get back from Kansas City until about 3 a.m. yesterday and were not required to be in uniform until an hour before last night's game, but they were wide awake when Twins starter Bob Tewksbury took the mound in the first inning.
Tewksbury walked leadoff batter Brady Anderson and struck out Jeff Reboulet before the Orioles reeled off four straight hits to take a quick three-run lead.
B. J. Surhoff singled off the glove of first baseman Scott Stahoviak and Geronimo Berroa doubled into the gap in left-center to bring home the first two runs. Rafael Palmeiro followed with a single to center to score Berroa and Cal Ripken singled as the Orioles went on to load the bases before No. 9 hitter Mike Bordick flied out to end the inning.
Berroa delivered the biggest swing of the inning, but it was Palmeiro who has carried the club all week long. He hit three homers during the four-game series in Kansas City and drove in six runs in the final two victories over the Royals. He has driven in runs in four of the last five games.
Erickson already looked like he had things under control. He retired the side in order in the top of the first and went through the Twins' batting order the first time without giving up a hit. Leadoff man Chuck Knoblauch finally broke through with a bloop single in the third that might have been caught by a right fielder other than Berroa.
The only ball hit solidly by a Twins batter through the first four innings was a hot shot down the first base line by Matt Lawton that was speared by a diving Palmeiro to end the second. The first hit that was struck solidly also came off the bat of Lawton, who opened the fifth inning with a shot over the out-of-town scoreboard for the first Minnesota run.
The ball passed just a few feet inside the right-field foul pole for Lawton's ninth home run of the year. Erickson gave up two more hits in the fifth, but that was the only run he would give up through 8 1/3 innings. After Stahoviak walked and Terry Steinbach singled in the ninth, Myers came on and needed only three pitches to induce Lawton to hit into a game-ending double play.
Erickson's effort was a big boost for the Orioles' pitching staff, which had been taxed by a doubleheader in Kansas City on Tuesday and a short start by rookie Esteban Yan. Johnson needed some innings to spell the tired bullpen and Erickson provided them.
"You always want to go nine," Erickson said. "The goal is to get 27 outs. If you're for any less, you're not trying to accomplish enough. I know the bullpen was taxed, but that's just what a
starter is supposed to do."
Erickson struggled during a 17-day stretch in July, but he has been outstanding ever since. He has not suffered a loss since July 12 and has given up one run or none in five of his last seven starts.
The veteran right-hander is considered the club's No. 3 starter, but he has matched left-hander Jimmy Key and right-hander Mike Mussina stat for stat and -- at 15-5 -- owns the best won-loss record of the three. If he could take away the July 6 statistical aberration in which he gave up 11 earned runs in 4 1/3 innings against Detroit, he would have left last night's game with a 2.80 ERA, which would have been good for third in the AL.
As it is, he ranks among the top five in victories and winning percentage and in the top 10 with a 3.28 ERA, with his best statistical month -- he's 21-8 lifetime in September -- still ahead.
"I hope to stay right here and close out the season strong," Erickson said. "You just hope to maintain your velocity and muscle memory and finish strong."
If he continues at this pace, he has a chance to win 20 games, something he did as a member of the Twins in 1991, which -- not coincidentally -- was a world championship season.
"Scottie pitched a great game," Twins manager Tom Kelly said. "He got a lot of ground balls. His sinker was working. He had a good slider and his fastball was good. We just couldn't get much working against him."
Tewksbury has endured a frustrating season that has included two stays on the disabled list. He has been looking for his 100th career victory since June 20 and didn't figure to have much of a margin for error last night.
He used it up in the first inning, then had to struggle to get out of a bases-loaded jam that could have turned the game into an early blowout. He settled down to give up just one more hit over the next six innings, but gave way to left-hander Greg Swindell with no possibility of recording a victory.
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 05 TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Twins' Frank Rodriguez (2-4, 4.95) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (13-5, 3.19)
* Tickets: Scattered singles
Twin-kle in his eye
After being banged around by his former team in his lone start against it last season, Scott Erickson has made '97 amends, going 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA:
1997 .. ..IP .. ..H .. ..ER .. ..BB .. ..SO .. ..Res
8/22 .. ..8 1/3 .. ..5 .. ...3 .. ...2 .. ...8 ...W 3-1
7/27 .. ..9 .. ...5 .. ...0 .. ...0 .. ...9 ...W 9-0
5/1 .. ...8 1/3 .. ..5 .. ...2 .. ...0 .. ...7 ...W 3-2
4/14 .. ..8 .. ...5 .. ...2 .. ...2 .. ...4 ...W 4-2
.. .. ...33 2/3 .. .20 .. ...7 .. ...4 .. ..28 .. ..4-0
1996 .. ..IP .. ..H .. ..ER .. ..BB .. ..SO .. ..Res
7/24 .. ..5 2/3 .. .10 .. ...8 .. ...2 .. ...1 ..L 11-4
Pub Date: 8/23/97