SEATTLE -- The last time Scott Erickson pitched, he offered the Orioles his best outing of the season and received the defense's most listless performance in return. To Erickson, the effort was too poor for words.
So last Thursday he walked away from Yankee Stadium speechless, his team winless in three games and the outlook borderline hopeless.
Last night against the Seattle Mariners, Erickson found his tongue to go with a dominant eight-inning start.
The Orioles hit for him and fielded behind him. As a result, they capped a 3-5 road trip with an 8-3 win before 31,464 at the Kingdome. Erickson (5-5) finally saw a return for four straight solid starts. The 23-28 Orioles head home still in last place but having won three of four for just the second time this month.
For Erickson, the outing was as much a message as a win. Irritated by persistent criticism of a bandaged staff, he downplayed any turnaround while reminding that the game requires offense to go with pitching.
"I don't know if there's a difference," he said. "You go out there and throw strikes. I don't care what happens, you can't blame it on pitching every time. If we lose 2-1 nobody says anything about the [expletive] hitting. But let there be a bad game pitching and all of a sudden all the pitchers stink."
Erickson might have approached the definition when he allowed 32 hits over a 15 1/3 -inning, three-start span last month. But last night against an intimidating lineup, he assumed the role of stopper left him when Mike Mussina returned to the disabled list May 18. Erickson is 3-0 with a 2.17 ERA his last four starts against Seattle.
"You've got to have a positive attitude. Hopefully everybody can put behind what's happened and come out Thursday fired up ready to play," he said of the series opener against Texas at Camden Yards. "We're not out of it. There's always a chance of rebounding and having a good streak. We have to be fired up and ready to play every day, no matter how many games we're behind."
The Orioles, who play 18 of their next 26 at Camden Yards, swamped the Mariners. New No. 7 hitter Cal Ripken provided three hits to go with two RBIs each from Lenny Webster and Roberto Alomar. Designated hitter Joe Carter's fourth home run of the season and 382nd of his career began the scoring in the second inning. A five-run third made the rest routine except for Sidney Ponson allowing a two-run ninth-inning homer to Glenallen Hill.
Carter's home run gave him three RBIs in the last 22 games. All have come on bases-empty home runs. Now consigned to a DH role, his at-bats have gained extra value.
"Any time you get a chance to get in there -- my thing is all about playing. It hasn't happened the way I would've liked," Carter said. "Any time I put the uniform on is special because you never know when it's going to be taken away from you. The game is special. It was good to get a home run. It was good to get a win."
Ask Erickson, who had received seven runs of support and some indifferent defense in his last three starts.
Few pitchers are more reliant on their backing than Erickson, a ground-ball pitcher finally convinced that he needn't be overpowering.
Erickson's backing against the Yankees was especially galling. Second baseman Alomar's errant behind-the-back toss led to an unearned run that soiled a 7 2/3 -inning, five-hit outing.
"Every time you lose you're going to be mad. We didn't play good. I don't know why the last start is so important, but you don't want to go into Yankee Stadium and get swept," he said. "We weren't very fired up for that game and it showed on the field."
At his best, Erickson practices machine-like efficiency. There is little need for wasting pitches or going around selected hitters. Here it is. Hit it if you can.
The Orioles encouraged him to take the approach by taking a 6-0 lead off left-handed tormentor Jeff Fassero (5-2), who had allowed only six hits in 16 innings against them last year. Included was the Mariners' only Division Series win, a Game 3 lockdown at Camden Yards. This time the Orioles jumped him for seven hits in 2 2/3 innings. Erickson never looked back.
The Mariners reached him for their first run with his help in the third. A leadoff walk to Joey Cora led to a run when the second baseman stole second despite the ridiculous deficit. Following one of his three strikeouts of AL home run leader Alex Rodriguez, Erickson allowed a single to Ken Griffey, scoring Cora.
Erickson then went on a tear, retiring the next 13 hitters he faced. He only needed two outfield putouts during the sprint.
Manager Ray Miller lifted him after eight innings and 111 pitches. The move appeared to rankle the staff workhorse, who craved his fourth complete game. Instead he settled for his second win since April 12. After surrendering seven earned runs in each of his first two starts this month, Erickson has allowed only seven earned runs in four starts covering 31 2/3 innings, a 1.99 ERA.
The manager repeatedly has stated that his team's seeming lethargy has been exaggerated by woeful starting pitching. The theory has validity. When allowed to stay in games by their pitching, the Orioles have shown more vitality.
An exception was Erickson's previous start, last Thursday in New York, when his defense gave an unearned run on two errors during a 3-1 loss. A peeved Erickson chose not to speak afterward.
Last night's effort said plenty about a makeshift rotation trying to overcome the losses of Mussina and Jimmy Key and the uncertain status of Scott Kamieniecki.
Overlooking Monday's 1 1/3 -inning nightmare by emergency starter Nerio Rodriguez, the starters have allowed a combined ,, three earned runs in 24 innings, a 1.13 ERA. Better yet, a soft-bellied bullpen hasn't been exposed.
Batting .333 (8-for-24) with a .500 on-base percentage (12-for-24) in his last six games, Brady Anderson is creeping toward the .200 mark after going on the disabled list April 20 with an .077 mark.
Date ..Opp .. ..H-AB .. ..BB .. ..Ext. .. ..Avg.
5/20 ...NY .. ...1-4 .. ...0 .. ..3B.. .. . .134
5/21 ...NY .. ...1-5 .. ...0 .. ..--.. .. . .137
5/22 ..Oak .. ...2-5 .. ...0 .. ..--.. .. . .150
5/23 ..Oak .. ...1-4 .. ...1 .. ..2B.. .. . .153
5/25 ..Sea .. ...2-3 .. ...1 .. ..HR.. .. . .167
5/26 ..Sea .. ...1-3 .. ...2 .. ..2B.. .. . .171
Pub Date: 5/27/98