ARLINGTON, Texas For five innings last night Scott Erickson appeared to be just what the Baltimore Orioles wanted a solid second starter to complement Mike Mussina.
But after pitching a shutout for those five innings, Erickson suffered a meltdown, blowing a five-run lead and watching the Orioles’ bullpen lose their 11th game of the season as Baltimore fell to the Texas Rangers 6-5 before 36,378 at the Ballpark in Arlington.
The Orioles’ fourth straight loss dropped them to 17-25 overall and 2-15 in May. The loss was their 10th by one run, including all four in their current streak. It was also the fourth time this season the Orioles have blown a lead of at least five runs. Reliever Buddy Groom (2-2) took the loss, but this time most of the blame can be placed somewhere other than the bullpen.
With two outs in the eighth, pinch hitter Frank Catalanotto hit an RBI single off hard-luck reliever Mike Trombley that bounced under Will Clark’s glove at first base, allowing Ruben Mateo, who drew a leadoff walk from Groom, to score the winning run.
The Orioles have been outscored 68-29 after the seventh inning this year.
A 1-4 road trip briefly appeared like it might have a promising end as the Orioles took a 5-0 lead.
With Texas (23-20) sending left-hander Darren Oliver to the hill, Orioles manager Mike Hargrove juggled his batting order, sitting left-handed hitting Brady Anderson and Harold Baines and moving Mike Bordick from ninth to second in the batting order. Delino DeShields replaced B.J. Surhoff as the No. 3 hitter, and the slumping Surhoff hit eighth.
Hargrove also flip-flopped Clark and Cal Ripken, with Clark moving up one spot to sixth.
The moves paid immediate dividends. Bordick hit a solo homer in the first, and DeShields and Albert Belle followed with singles. DeShields scored on a single by Jeff Conine, who replaced Baines in the fifth spot in the order, and Belle scored on the play courtesy of a Jason McDonald throwing error to put the Orioles ahead 3-0.
Back-to-back doubles by Clark and Ripken in the fourth added another run, and a Clark single an inning later scored Bordick to make it 5-0.
The RBI was part of a statistical anomaly for Clark. He leads the Orioles in batting average (.338 before last night) and on-base percentage (.494), but the RBI was just his fourth of the season, with the other three coming April 9 against Detroit.
The game was just the second for Clark since he missed 15 days with a strained groin. He went 0-for-5 Thursday and sat out Saturday, but he reached base the first four times he came to the plate last night, getting a double, two singles and a walk.
The Orioles kept getting on base but poor baserunning kept them from scoring more runs. In the fifth Conine singled but was thrown out getting back to first after making the turn. In the sixth Surhoff was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on a Charles Johnson single. In the eighth Surhoff tried to go from second to third on a grounder to short and was thrown out easily.
The Orioles also stranded a pair of runners in the seventh, all of which proved costly when Erickson suddenly imploded.
In just his fourth start since returning from elbow surgery March 3, Erickson looked strong early, giving up just two hits and no runs through five innings.
But Rafael Palmeiro ended the shutout with a solo home run, the second in as many games for the former Oriole. Later that inning Mike Lamb hit a two-run blast to cut the Orioles’ lead to 5-3.
In the seventh Luis Alicea’s third hit of the game sandwiched between two walks loaded the bases and ended Erickson’s evening.
Al Reyes got Ivan Rodriguez to fly to center field, but the out let McDonald score to make it 5-4. Groom then came on to get Palmeiro to ground out, but Alicea scored on the play to erase the lead.