MINNEAPOLIS -- Two home runs by leadoff hitter Brady Anderson and a career-high 26th by left fielder B. J. Surhoff last night ignited the Orioles to a 10-0 throttling of the Minnesota Twins. Anyone looking closely could find encouraging images for the present and future.
If there is such a thing as cruise control for a 63-76 fourth-place team, the Orioles find it when they play the Twins. The Orioles raised themselves to 7-1 against Minnesota this season, including six straight wins. Last night's decision represents the first time the Orioles have crafted back-to-back shutouts since ending the 1995 season with a club-record five straight. Shut out by the Orioles for 20 consecutive innings, the Twins have scored in only two of their last 33 innings against them.
Before a predictably small Metrodome crowd of 9,564, starting pitcher Jason Johnson (6-7) never faced the tying run because he received three runs before even taking the mound.
Riding an eight-game hitting streak, Albert Belle had a three-hit game. Surhoff put a stop to consecutive hitless games with a first-inning single and his second September home run. Working as designated hitter, Anderson ended a 3-for-22 skid that coincided with his Sept. 1 transfer from center field.
Anderson's first-inning blast off Twins starter LaTroy Hawkins (9-12) was his seventh leadoff home run of the season and the 36th of his career, moving him past Bobby Bonds for second place all time. It left him only four homers and one steal shy of his first 25 homer-35 steal season.
"I really don't count my home runs," said Anderson. "But I consider a 20-20 season a great season for any player, especially a leadoff hitter."
Territorial of a position he has manned since 1995, Anderson downplayed the effect of his defensive move; but he had closed to within four points of his first .300 season when approached by general manager Frank Wren Sept. 1.
"As a player, you make adjustments throughout your career," said Anderson. "[The position switch] isn't a valid reason [for a slump]. If it is, it's the player's responsibility."
"I think it's always easier when you're playing to get into the postseason because then you're not as prone to think about your own numbers," said Surhoff, who entered the night second in the league in hits to Derek Jeter. Surhoff is 16 hits shy of 200 and retains an outside shot of breaking Cal Ripken's season franchise mark of 211.
The win also included symbolism as the Orioles employed a rookie up-the-middle for the last four innings.
Coming off Tuesday's three-hit game, second baseman Jerry Hairston enjoyed another memorable game highlighted by two hits and a dazzling seventh-inning double play turned with recently promoted shortstop Jesse Garcia. Rookie relievers Gabe Molina and B. J. Ryan covered the final four innings to complete the Orioles' ninth shutout this season. Besides participating in four double plays, Hairston extended a run of reaching base to seven consecutive plate appearances before grounding out in the sixth inning.
Center fielder Eugene Kingsale singled twice and catcher Mike Figga singled and scored.
The look to the near future continues tonight when 20-year-old left-hander Matt Riley makes his big-league debut in the series finale.
Miller created a minor stir Aug. 18 when he suggested that Hawkins' solid eight-inning start could be at least partially attributed to a "new pitch." Miller's inference was that Hawkins was cheating by loading the ball with a substance. Hawkins, of course, denied the allegation, saying he had only become more comfortable with a split-fingered pitch.
Hawkins allowed 10 hits in his Aug. 23 start.
On Sept. 3 he walked four before being pulled after 1 1/3 innings.
Coincidence? Probably. But against the same team he controlled for his first complete game three weeks ago Hawkins was hammered last night for 10 hits, 20 total bases and three home runs before being rescued by Kelly with one out in the seventh inning. By then, every Orioles starter except third baseman Cal Ripken (0-for-4) and first baseman Jeff Conine had reached him for a hit.
While Hawkins was taking damage, Johnson pursued his first major-league complete game. The quest seemed within reach when he faced only nine hitters over the first three innings and allowed only three hits through five.
When Johnson returned to the visitors dugout after the fifth inning he pointed to a split blister on his right middle finger and blood-smeared pants. What looked to be something attainable instead became five shutout innings.
"I thought I had a good shot tonight," said Johnson, who said he only felt the blister between innings. "But I guess it's not in the cards for me to get my complete game this season."
No matter. The Orioles expanded a 5-0 lead to 8-0 with home runs by Anderson and Surhoff in the seventh.
Hairston's eighth-inning double and a pinch single by Rich Amaral completed the wipeout.
Opponent: Minnesota Twins
Site: Metrodome, Minneapolis
Time: 8: 05
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Matt Riley (major-league debut) vs. Twins' Jason Ryan (0-2, 3.93)
Pub Date: 9/09/99