Even in victory, with a much-needed dominant performance from starter Scott Erickson and two perfect innings from their beleaguered, short-handed bullpen, the Baltimore Orioles could not escape turmoil. Their 4-2 victory over the Florida Marlins, which prevented an embarrassing sweep, likely will be remembered most for what happened in the top of the ninth inning in the Orioles dugout.
That was when Manager Ray Miller and cleanup hitter Albert Belle exchanged angry expletives, after Belle failed to run out a ground ball. Part of the exchange was caught on camera by HTS, which replayed the confrontation after a commercial break.
"My comment is that what happens internally will stay internal and will be taken care of internally," Miller said. "What goes on between me and anybody stays in the clubhouse."
Approached by reporters after the game, Belle declined to comment by way of a stream of expletives.
With two runners on and two outs in the ninth and the Orioles leading 4-2, Belle grounded to Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell. Belle slowed up halfway to first, but Lowell's throw pulled first baseman Kevin Millar off the bag.
Miller pulled Belle for defensive replacement Rich Amaral on a double switch -- a move he said he was going to make anyway. However, Belle was already nearing right field and had to jog back to the dugout.
Television cameras caught Belle yelling angrily at Miller in the dugout, and having to be restrained by teammate Jeff Reboulet while Miller waved Belle off with a toss of his hand.
The incident had no bearing on the decision to send in Amaral, Miller said. "Amaral knew he was going in if Albert made the last out when the inning started. And Reboulet knew he was going in if [Delino] DeShields made the last out," Miller said.
Tonight's victory -- in which Erickson (2-8) went seven strong innings and Ricky Bones and Arthur Rhodes combined for the last six outs -- marked the first time since May 27 an Orioles starter got a victory and a reliever converted a save in the same game. The sterling effort from Erickson -- whose season-long funk has been one of the most puzzling of the Orioles' problems -- gave the team its best development in days.
"It was a good lift for me and for the club because Scotty pitched like we know he can," Miller said.
When the Orioles reach the point this season when they must decide whether to start tearing down the team or keep it intact, Erickson will present one of the most intriguing dilemmas. Despite his poor record, he is one of the few tradeable Orioles.
Erickson has a limited no-trade clause, which specifies eight teams to which he can be traded. One of those teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers, already has expressed interest.
Tonight, Erickson looked like the pitcher who won 16 games a year ago, working fast, gaining strength as the game wore on and inducing weak ground balls with his sinking fastball. Only three of the 21 outs Erickson recorded came on fly balls.
"I didn't change anything," Erickson said. "It was just a matter of balls being hit at people."
B.J. Surhoff's 12th homer of the season in the top of the seventh increased the Orioles' lead to 4-2, making Miller confident enough to lift Erickson for pinch hitter Harold Baines in the eighth -- even though Erickson had just retired the Marlins easily on three grounders in the bottom of the seventh.
That left the Orioles' bullpen to get six outs -- a task it has often failed to complete. Entering the game, the Orioles' bullpen was more likely to blow a save opportunity than convert one (a 9-for-19 success rate).
But Bones, normally a long reliever, pitched a 1-2-3 eighth, and Rhodes struck out the side in the ninth for his third save.
"We finally had what we wanted," Miller said. "A starter to go seven extremely strong innings and our bullpen to come through with six quick outs, which is unheard of lately."
CAPTION: Orioles' Cal Ripken falls to the dirt to avoid a pitch in fourth inning, but stood tall with three hits against Marlins.