The Dude is back. Or at the very least, getting closer.
Six weeks of undertow finally let go of Brady Anderson last night. Six weeks of soreness, frustration and a batting average so small an electron microscope was needed for a viewfinder. Last night in an encouraging 8-1 pounding of the Cleveland Indians, Anderson finally rode a wave.
After entering with an injury-impeded .074 average and only two extra-base hits, Anderson ripped two bases-empty home runs off Indians starter Chad Ogea (1-2) to begin the Orioles' 10-hit barrage against four Cleveland pitchers. Far from an instant cure -- Anderson's 2-for-5 night left him at .096 -- the night at least reminded a Camden Yards crowd of 43,379 why he is in the second month of a five-year, $31 million contract.
"It's pretty exciting, and it's not just the home run," said manager Ray Miller, whose team improved to 20-18.
"He's been working real hard. He had that look in his eyes like two days ago. He's got that swagger when he stands on top of home plate and he looks you right in the eye and says, 'Let's go.' It's fun to see because that takes the pressure off everybody else."
It certainly helped take some pressure off Orioles starter Doug Drabek (3-4), who gained the decision with seven solid innings in his third consecutive positive outing. Drabek held the Indians to one run and five hits only seven days after they had humbled the Orioles, 14-5, at Jacobs Field.
Thanks to a three-run first inning that began with Anderson's leadoff homer, Drabek faced the tying run for only one at-bat after the first inning.
"This is a big-screen TV compared to a kitchen 10-inch," said Drabek. "Now that you've got a couple good games together, you can start feeding off of stuff instead of constantly trying to figure things out."
As for Anderson, the center fielder said, "I think I improved a little bit tonight. It's tough when you haven't faced live pitching in two weeks and haven't swung a bat in 10 days. I didn't feel good in the box when I first got back. I never really got that frustrated. Sometimes I guess I was disappointed in myself, but I knew I'd just have to ride it out. It was another challenge. I guess it was another way to torture myself: see how deep a hole I can dig for myself."
With his second home run of the season, Anderson set the tone for a 10-hit performance that included three hits from shortstop Mike Bordick, two extra-base hits from second baseman Roberto Alomar and a night of relentless pressure against four Indians pitchers. Exiled Oriole Rick Krivda gave their most competent outing with 2 2/3 innings in relief.
The Orioles' three home runs -- two by Anderson plus an eighth-inning shot by Bordick -- gave them 28 in their past 15 games. They have homered in all 15, leaving them two shy of the club consecutive-games homer record.
After the first inning, the Indians brought the tying run to the plate for only one at-bat.
Anderson's bash began on the first pitch he saw from Chad Ogea (1-2). He drilled it over the right-field scoreboard and short-hopped the fence protecting Eutaw Street. The rocket marked the 28th time in his career that Anderson has led off a game with a home run. It was also Anderson's first home run since April 10 in Detroit, a span of 46 at-bats.
The Orioles didn't stop there.
Jeffrey Hammonds walked and immediately scored on a triple to right by Alomar, batting in his third different spot in the order in as many days. The triple was only the Orioles' second in 1,259 at-bats. Alomar then scored to make it 3-0 when Rafael Palmeiro's pop to shallow right became an adventure for second baseman David Bell and right fielder Manny Ramirez. Ramirez made a lunging catch, but Alomar scored without a throw, giving Palmeiro a 140-foot sacrifice fly.
The Orioles eventually extended their consecutive-inning streak with at least one hit to 18, running up a 6-1 lead along the way.
The Indians managed only mild resistance against Drabek, who continued his return from the pitching dead by giving a third consecutive serviceable start. He contained a volatile lineup that had smashed 14 runs and 17 hits in a Scott Erickson start May 6.
Travis Fryman cut the Indians' deficit to 3-1 in the third inning with his fourth home run, the eighth surrendered by Drabek in as many starts.
That was it.
Drabek yielded to Norm Charlton after seven innings, his longest start since April 3. In his last three starts, Drabek is 2-0 on a 3.00 ERA, an encouraging turnaround from his last four April starts, which resulted in four losses and 20 earned runs in 15 1/3 innings.
While Drabek pitched efficiently, the Orioles continued to pound Ogea. Alomar doubled with one out in the third. Cal Ripken walked. With two out, Harold Baines singled home Alomar, and B. J. Surhoff followed by slapping the inning's third hit to score a sliding Ripken for a 5-0 lead. The RBI was Surhoff's 10th in his past 32 at-bats.
Anderson returned in the fourth to cap his statement. This time he drilled a one-out home run to center, giving him eight total bases -- only one fewer than in his previous 20 games combined. The multi-homer game was Anderson's first since Sept. 2, 1996.
He wasn't through yet. With two on and two out in the sixth, Ramirez drove a Drabek fastball to dead center. The ball hung, allowing Anderson to retreat to the warning track and make a leaping catch against the padding on the wall. Drabek, sensing the moment, lingered outside the home dugout, waiting for Anderson to arrive. The two touched gloves. A moment of thanks from Drabek. A moment of satisfaction for The Dude.
Opponent: Cleveland Indians
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 7: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Indians' Charles Nagy (3-2, 5.79) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (4-2, 2.01)
Tickets: 5,300 remain
Pub Date: 5/14/98