Whenever Scott Erickson takes the mound these days, the Baltimore Orioles hope his once unhittable sinker will be sharper, his control better and the outcome different. And then comes another performance such as tonight's, when Erickson gives the Orioles no reason for optimism.
Staked to an early two-run lead, Erickson once more was hit early and often in escorting the Orioles to a 9-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies in front of 47,542 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
The Orioles (20-33) marked the start of interleague play by allowing 18 hits and falling 13 games under .500 for the first time this season.
Erickson (1-8) allowed seven earned runs and 14 base runners in 5 2/3 innings. Outfielder Albert Belle and pitcher Mike Fetters made errors that contributed to rallies, and the Orioles left at least one runner on base in each of the first six innings.
But it began with Erickson. If nothing else, he is closing in on some consistency by allowing seven runs for the second consecutive start. His 6.75 earned run average rose to 7.11.
"I guess I'm an eternal optimist, but I think Scottie had good stuff," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said. "That's the stuff I've been waiting to see from Scottie. He should take something positive out of this. They had some bloops and we got gloves on a couple of balls we didn't field. But he also busted some bats."
Designated hitter Ron Gant and second baseman Doug Glanville each had four hits for the Phillies, and shortstop Desi Relaford drove in three runs. It was Relaford's two-run double that put the Phillies (27-26) ahead to stay in the top of the second inning. They broke it open with three more runs in the sixth by sending eight hitters to the plate and finally ending Erickson's night.
"It's frustrating," Erickson said. "I don't know where to look next. I'll just keep going out there and hope it turns around. I'm snakebit right now."
Phillies right-hander Chad Ogea (3-3) got the victory by going five shaky innings. He allowed five hits but issued a career-high seven walks. Still, the Orioles got just three runs off him.
"When a guy walks seven, you're supposed to win," Miller said.
They didn't because they left 11 runners on base. Belle came to bat with runners on base four times in the first six innings. He homered in the first, grounded into a double play in the third, flied out in the fourth and struck out in the sixth.
Will Clark stranded runners in the first, fifth and ninth innings. The Orioles trailed 4-3 when he came to bat in the fifth. Harold Baines had led off the inning with a double, but Clark grounded out, failing to move Baines to third, where a fly ball would have scored him with the tying run.
"We've just got to do a lot of things better," Miller said. "We've got to hold teams down early, and we've got to get some hits and get people in. Speed becomes a factor. They hit some balls and beat them out. We couldn't. That's not an excuse. That's a factor."
The Orioles led the game briefly when Brady Anderson opened the bottom of the first inning by walking and Belle hit his 10th home run. Belle had no home runs and just two RBI in the 13 games before tonight.
Belle entered the game hitting .217 with runners in scoring position. His 34 RBI are are six fewer than Baines has in seven fewer games.
Erickson made Belle's lead hold up about 10 minutes. In the top of the second inning, Gant singled with one out. Bobby Abreu dumped a single to right, sending Gant to third.
Lieberthal got Gant home by beating out an infield single. Erickson walked Rob Ducey to load the bases, and Relaford doubled to right to score Abreu and Lieberthal to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead. Glanville got Ducey home with an infield single to make it 4-2.
The Orioles closed it to 4-3 in the fourth when Charles Johnson reached base on third baseman Kevin Jordan's error and eventually scored on B.J. Surhoff's infield grounder. But with Anderson at third base, Belle flied out to center field.
The Phillies broke it open in the sixth. Gant singled with one out. Abreu followed with a single that Belle bobbled, allowing Gant to move to third. Lieberthal singled to score Gant, and after Ducey walked, Relaford scored Abreu with a fielder's choice grounder. Glanville followed with an RBI double that made it 7-3 and sent Erickson to the showers.
CAPTION: Jeff Reboulet stretches to tag out Doug Glanville before throwing to first to complete double play. Glanville had four of Phillies' 18 hits and three RBI.
CAPTION: Phillies' Rob Ducey upends Jeff Reboulet to break up double play. Scott Erickson fell to 1-8, and Orioles to 13 games under .500 for first time in '99.