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Angels Finally Knuckle Under

Baseball: Orioles take a while to get to Springer, but Anderson and Zeile's homers do it in 4-2 victory.

September 05, 1996|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was as if some light clicked on in the Baltimore dugout Wednesday night, and the Orioles realized that hitting a knuckleball can't be that difficult.

Somehow, this team that leads the major leagues in home runs, that can field a lineup in which all nine players have 20 homers or more, had gone 23 consecutive innings without a run against knuckleball pitchers Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox and Dennis Springer of the Angels.

But Brady Anderson, looking like a guy who had solved a Rubik's Cube, smashed a Springer offering into the right-field seats for a sixth-inning homer, and Todd Zeile followed by drilling a Springer pitch into the left- field bleachers.

The Angel lead was gone, Springer was gone after Roberto Alomar's single, and the Orioles were soon winging back to Baltimore after a 4-2 victory over the Angels before 18,204 in Anaheim Stadium.

"The knuckleball is a hard thing to figure out," said Anderson, who has 44 home runs. "It might break up one time and down the next. . . . I just kept telling myself to see the ball a little better."

The Orioles saw the ball a lot better in Anaheim this week than they did against the Angels in cozy Camden Yards Aug. 23-25. Baltimore did not hit one homer in that series but had nine--including Rafael Palmeiro's two-run shot in the sixth Wednesday night--to win two of three in Anaheim.

"We left Baltimore without giving up a homer and they come here and don't miss a pitch," Angel Manager Joe Maddon said. "Who would have thunk it? That's incredible."

The same could be said of Oriole pitcher Scott Erickson's record against the Angels. The right-hander, who suffered a momentary lapse against the Angels in a 13-0 loss Aug. 25, resumed his mastery of them Wednesday night, giving up two runs--one earned--and five hits in 7 1/3 innings.

Erickson, who retired 14 in a row from the first through fifth innings, improved his career mark to 12-2 with a 3.56 earned-run average against them, and he is now 6-0 with a 2.60 ERA in Anaheim Stadium.

But Erickson (10-11) and the Orioles had to survive a scary eighth to win it.

Jorge Fabregas led off with a double to left-center, and pinch-runner Chris Turner took third on George Arias' slow roller to short. Baltimore Manager Davey Johnson then pulled Erickson for left-hander Jesse Orosco.

Pinch-hitter Randy Velarde walked, and Johnson summoned right-hander Terry Mathews, who gave up an RBI single to pinch-hitter Darin Erstad, making it 4-2. But Jim Edmonds flied to deep center, Anderson making the catch at the wall and Velarde tagging and taking third.

Then came the fluke play of the evening. Tim Salmon took ball four, a nasty breaking ball that popped into the air and just behind catcher Mark Parent, who did not appear, at first, to know where the ball was.

Velarde was halfway home when Parent spotted the ball and retrieved it, and after two throws, Velarde was out in a rundown.

"Randy has been clutch for us in many situations--that was just a bad read," Maddon said. "But it was a mistake of hustle."

Randy Myers then struck out the side in the ninth--Chili Davis and J.T. Snow looking, Garret Anderson swinging--for his 27th save.

Eddie Murray, who doubled in four at-bats, remained stuck on 499 career home runs, but at least the Orioles were no longer stuck in the mud against knuckleballers.

Wakefield had shut them out, 2-0, on July 20, Springer shut them out on Aug. 25, and Springer blanked them again through the first five innings Wednesday.

The Angels took a 1-0 lead in the first when Edmonds doubled to left, took third when the ball took an awkward bounce past left fielder B.J. Surhoff in the corner and scored on Salmon's groundout.

But the successive homers by Anderson and Zeile in the sixth gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead. Since being traded from the Philadelphia Phillies last week, Zeile is 11 for 22 (.500) with three homers in six games for the Orioles.

Alomar laced a single to center and Maddon went to left-handed reliever Mark Holzemer. But Palmeiro foiled the strategy with his 31st homer of the season for a 4-1 lead.

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