With one swing last night, Cal Ripken reached another milestone in his illustrious career and made the Orioles' season a little easier to digest.
Ripken pulled a 1-1 pitch from Tampa Bay's Rolando Arrojo into the left-field seats with two outs in the third inning for his 400th career homer, adding a special touch to an 11-6 victory over the Devil Rays before 39,172 at Camden Yards.
Playing in only his second game since returning from the disabled list, Ripken stepped up with two runners aboard and the Orioles leading 4-2. Having popped to second in his first at-bat, he drilled a 372-foot shot that produced two curtain calls and enough margin for Scott Erickson (11-11) to again reach .500.
The Orioles (60-73) are a long way from there, but at least they didn't wake up this morning in last place. They're now 1 1/2 games ahead of the Devil Rays after taking the last two of this series.
Ripken's homer was the last pitch thrown by Arrojo, who had surrendered a two-run single to Albert Belle earlier in the inning. Jeff Conine had doubled in two runs in the second, but Tampa Bay got even by opening the third with four straight singles -- including two that didn't leave the infield. The last hit, a grounder up the middle by Dave Martinez, drove in the tying runs.
Ripken, in turn, drove the crowd into delirium.
"It's a little bit of pressure off me," he said. "I was swinging the bat well before I got hurt. Coming back, I knew I only had one to go, but you don't try to hit home runs. You just try to put a good swing on it."
Said manager Ray Miller: "It's a big thrill, obviously. He got a slider and he smoked it out of the ballpark. It was a tremendous reaction from the fans, the ballclub, the manager. It was something to see."
Erickson put more distance between himself and a 1-8 start that included two April losses to the Devil Rays. He has won 10 of his last 13 decisions, though last night's effort was far from crisp. He went 6 1/3 innings, allowing four runs and 10 hits, before being replaced by rookie left-hander B. J. Ryan.
It was Erickson's shortest outing since Aug. 2, when he lasted only 4 2/3 innings in Oakland. It also was the first time he had given up double figures in hits since June 25 in New York.
"At times he had good stuff but he was just behind in the count all night," Miller said of Erickson, who threw 107 pitches. "We were 2-1, or the few people we were 1-2 on, we'd go to 3-2. But they're a battling club. They don't give up."
Ryan, making his third appearance in the majors and his second with the Orioles, stranded two runners in the seventh to complete Erickson's line. He retired the side in the eighth, giving him 2 2/3 scoreless innings since being acquired from Cincinnati on July 31 for Juan Guzman.
There was enough room in a crowded night for Mike Fetters' first outing since June 6. Coming off right elbow surgery, he allowed two ninth-inning runs before retiring Paul Sorrento for the final out. He threw 34 pitches.
Tampa Bay put at least one runner on base in each of the first seven innings. Erickson got double plays to end the first and fourth without harm, but permitted two runs in the sixth that sliced the Orioles' lead to 7-4.
Fred McGriff walked to lead off the inning, and consecutive singles by John Flaherty and Paul Sorrento brought in a run. Herbert Perry added another with a sacrifice fly to center.
Flaherty's hit didn't drive Erickson from the game, but it cost the Orioles second baseman Delino DeShields. He walked off the field with what the club described as "lower abdominal discomfort" after diving for the ball and landing on his stomach.
The Orioles already were missing Brady Anderson, who was scratched from his second start in left field with a sore left shoulder.
They still had enough weapons to subdue the Devil Rays.
Conine doubled twice, singled and knocked in three runs. B. J. Surhoff, whose average had slipped to .315, collected three hits and two RBIs. Mike Bordick, who began the night with two hits in his last 18 at-bats, doubled with one out in the third inning, striking the match that ignited a five-run uprising.
Derrick May, starting in place of Anderson, went 1-for-3 with a walk and an RBI. He brought in the last of three unearned runs off reliever Rick White in the sixth by beating the relay from second baseman Miguel Cairo on a play close enough to get manager Larry Rothschild ejected.