The scouts sat poised with their radar guns and note pads in the seats behind home plate, scribbling, charting, noting, and Scott Erickson gave them what they wanted to see. Paradoxically, Erickson's performance today may have made it easier for the Baltimore Orioles to trade him this month, while at the same time making it tougher to part with him.
Today's 6-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in front of 33,399 at Veterans Stadium was vintage Erickson, 1997. His sinker sank. His slider slid. He put seven runners on base in the first four innings, but induced three double-play grounders and kept the scoreboard clean until the eighth inning.
And so the Orioles (36-51) entered the all-star break with back-to-back wins and their first series win since the middle of June. They are 15 games below .500, 16 1/2 games behind first-place New York and 12 1/2 behind wild-card leader Boston.
"Everybody goes home feeling good about themselves," Manager Ray Miller said. "We'll come back and try to do the same thing we did last year -- go out and win a bunch of ballgames.
"Hopefully, we'll get some nagging injuries picked up. Obviously, we want to pitch better than we did in the first half. Maybe we made strides toward that, I don't know. But the last couple of days have looked pretty good."
A year ago, the Orioles went into the all-star break at 38-50, 26 1/2 games out of first, but won 14 of their first 15 games (and 30 of 38) in the second half to climb to the fringe of the wild-card race.
This season, the organization is more inclined to scale back by trading a handful of veterans before the July 31 trading deadline.
Erickson (4-8), who is in the first year of a five-year, $32 million contract, arguably is the pivotal player in the Orioles' upcoming decision about their organizational direction.
Keep him, and the rest of their probable trades (Lenny Webster, Juan Guzman, Arthur Rhodes) make a minor statement about a new direction. Trade Erickson along with them, and it is a major statement.
"I have no control over that," Erickson said when asked about a possible trade. "And I don't worry about things I can't control."
Actually, Erickson has a little bit of control. His limited no-trade clause lists eight teams (Oakland, Detroit, Toronto, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Montreal) to which he cannot be traded.
But the Cleveland Indians, in desperate need of a starter who can work a lot of innings (their bullpen has pitched more innings this season than any team's besides Tampa Bay's and Oakland's), have Erickson near the top of their list, and sent one of their scouts to today's game.
That scout and the others saw Erickson throw a season-high 131 pitches, mixing in an unusually high number of slow curves in with his trademark sinker-slider combination.
Perhaps benefiting from the high mound at Veterans Stadium, he had a shutout until the eighth, when Doug Glanville doubled to lead off the inning, Ron Gant tripled past center fielder Brady Anderson and Bobby Abreu drove in Gant with a grounder to short.
But at that point, the Orioles had scored six runs, banging line drives off the walls and chasing starter Chad Ogea after four innings.
Anderson had three hits and two stolen bases, and Will Clark, Charles Johnson and rookie Jerry Hairston each had two hits, including a double each.
Erickson gave up six hits, walked four and struck out three. Ogea (4-9) gave up seven hits, two walks and four earned runs, and also threw a wild pitch and bunted into a double play in his only plate appearance.
While Erickson started the season 1-8, he is 3-0 with a 4.53 ERA in his last seven starts. In the past few weeks, the Orioles have worked with Erickson on mechanics, especially in his stretch position, trying to get him to drive the ball to the plate as opposed to falling off and not "finishing the pitch."
Today, Miller said Erickson is close to his 1997 form, when he went 16-7 with a 3.69 ERA.
"He still gets a little out of whack sometimes," Miller said. "But a big, tall mound like that takes a lot of stress off. He was really driving the ball to the plate. You could see his momentum even after he threw it."
Erickson called the outing "something to build on" in the second half. But the question is where that building will occur.
CAPTION: Orioles' Mike Bordick get force on Domingo Cedeno at second base before throwing to first to complete double play.
CAPTION: Orioles' B.J. Surhoff scores on a double by Will Clark in the first inning at Veterans Stadium as Phillies catcher Mike Lieberthal awaits throw at home.