There was no letdown. No post-Yankees depression. The Orioles played a near-perfect game last night and opened the American League Championship Series with an uplifting, 3-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians before 49,029 at Camden Yards.
Right-hander Scott Erickson, who had come up so big in the Division Series against the Seattle Mariners, towered over the Indians the same way, giving up just four hits over eight innings for his second victory of the postseason. He combined with closer Randy Myers to pitch the first Orioles shutout since Aug. 12 and carry the Orioles another small step closer to the World Series.
It didn't take long for the sellout crowd to get into the spirit of the game. Center fielder Brady Anderson got a loud ovation in the top of the first inning, when he crashed into the center-field fence to rob Cleveland right fielder Manny Ramirez of an extra-base hit. Two minutes later, he led off the Orioles' half of the inning by launching the first pitch from Indians starter Chad Ogea into the temporary bleachers on the flag court in right field for his fourth career postseason home run.
The Indians must have thought it was an instant replay, because Anderson led off Game 1 of the 1996 Division Series the same way.
"He made a great defensive play, and then he came up and put an exclamation point on it," said Indians manager Mike Hargrove. "To keep a run from scoring for us and then to come right up and hit a first-pitch curveball out, that was pretty awesome."
Roberto Alomar provided the next magic moment. He came up with a runner on in the third inning and launched the Orioles' second shot into the same bleacher section. If this keeps up, they may have to add space in the flag court for another flag.
Erickson didn't need much help. He was overpowering from the start, holding the Indians to just four singles through eight innings, but manager Davey Johnson chose to remove him after 90 pitches, presumably to keep him fresh for a possible Game 4 start in Cleveland.
"When he's really on like that, it's a tough hook for me," said Johnson. "The only thing about it when he's throwing a real dominant game like that and he gets a little tired, sometimes he throws a little too hard and his pitches come up a little bit. That started to happen in the eighth inning."
He might have pitched his first career postseason shutout if he had been allowed to go back out for the ninth inning, but did not complain about the decision turn the game over to the league's top closer.
"That was fine," Erickson said. "Right now, it's a matter of our team winning four games. It's not time for personal goals right now."
Ogea gave up just the three runs that crossed the plate on the big swings by Anderson and Alomar, but he would take the loss.
The Indians arrived in Baltimore at a pitching disadvantage. Hargrove probably would have preferred to start veteran Orel Hershiser in the opener, but the Cleveland pitching staff had been stretched the limit in the Indians' five-game Division Series victory over the New York Yankees.
The only options were Ogea and right-hander Charles Nagy, but Ogea got the call because of his 2-1 record and 2.61 ERA against the Orioles during the regular season. He lived up to those numbers, but he could not outlast Erickson, who seemed to make the right pitch at the right time all night long.
Nagy will get his chance today, when he takes the mound against Orioles left-hander Jimmy Key. Both starting pitchers are looking to rebound from disappointing performances in the Division Series, and both have some negative history to overcome.
Key has lost nine of his past 10 starts at Camden Yards -- including Game 3 of the Division Series -- and Nagy would like to erase the memory of his struggles in last year's first-round playoff series against the Orioles, when he went 0-1 with a 7.15 ERA and took a severe beating in Game 1 at Camden Yards.
Pub Date: 10/09/97