MINNEAPOLIS -- Welcome to September baseball in the land that franchise relocation forgot. In a setting where fans throw their voices to hear the echo, Scott Erickson gave the Orioles another strong showing against his former club in a 5-0 win before 9,263 at the Metrodome. As long as the game "survives" in the Great White North, the Orioles will always have somewhere to get well.
Only 45-68 against the rest of the American League, the Orioles improved to 6-1 against their small-market competition.
For Erickson, who threw a three-hitter, history repeated itself. The shutout was Erickson's second against the Twins in 21 days. It also elevated the Orioles to 23-5 against the Twins since 1996.
Albert Belle's fourth-inning home run and 98th RBI allowed the Orioles to take a 1-0 lead against Twins starter Joe Mays (5-8). A six-hit barrage in the seventh inning pumped the lead to 5-0 while featuring Cal Ripken's career hit No. 2,973.
Otherwise, this was just another predictable evening in the American League purgatory where the Twins barely draw 15,000 a game -- an improvement over last season. Only the Montreal Expos exhibit less support. A nerve-racking, deafening place when the Twins captured World Series in 1987 and 1991, the Metrodome now serves as a virtually neutral setting where teams can give their 20-year-old prospects a major-league debut without fear of trauma.
For the second time in three weeks the Twins provided little resistance against Erickson (12-11), who peeked above .500 for the first time this season by improving to 10-3 since June 4. He is only one win shy of his fifth consecutive season of at least 13 wins.
Erickson held the third-place Twins to three singles while facing only four more than the minimum number of hitters. True to recent form, Erickson didn't rely on strikeouts. (He had none until a wild-pitch strikeout with two outs in the ninth.) Instead, Erickson received double plays in the first and seventh innings while surrendering inconsequential singles to Jacque Jones, Matt Lawton and Doug Mientkiewicz. He induced 20 ground-ball outs, including at least two in every inning.
The Orioles managed only two hits through six innings but came alive in the seventh after Ripken grounded a single past third base. Jerry Hairston's second of three hits scored Ripken for a 2-0 lead. Brady Anderson followed with an RBI single to right field and Mike Bordick chased Mays with the inning's sixth hit, which scored center fielder Eugene Kingsale for a five-run lead.
On Aug. 18 Erickson threw a five-hit shutout at the Twins. Last night he pushed for his third shutout this season. Manager Ray Miller didn't shake his bullpen until the ninth inning.
Since losing to the Twins on July 24, 1996, Erickson has beaten them eight times in 10 starts. He has twice received a no-decision.
The dominant outing against the team that traded him to Baltimore in 1995 was hardly surprising. However, Erickson's ability to right a season that began disastrously represents one of the season's most remarkable turnarounds.
Erickson survived only 25 innings in April, didn't gain his first win until May 9 and was dangled for trade as recently as two weeks ago when the Cleveland Indians made a waiver claim on him. As of today he leads the Orioles in innings pitched, is second to Mike Mussina in wins and will likely lead his league in ground-ball ratio for a fourth consecutive season.
The Twins advanced runners to third base after two outs in each of the first two innings. The first time came when catcher Charles Johnson bounced a throw past Hairston on Lawton's steal attempt. An inning later, one of Erickson's three walks became a problem after Mientkiewicz's single.
From there, Erickson settled into a familiar cruise. He retired 13 consecutive hitters until allowing a leadoff walk in the seventh inning. A double play immediately erased the mistake.
As the night unfolded the only lingering suspense was whether the Metrodome roof could hold a driving rain outside.
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis
Time: 8: 05
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Jason Johnson (5-7, 6.20) vs. Twins' LaTroy Hawkins (9-11, 6.45)
Pub Date: 9/08/99