Last June, Montreal Expos Manager Felipe Alou unwittingly authored what became the epitaph to the Baltimore Orioles' moribund season, remarking after the Expos swept the Orioles in a three-game series in Montreal that he "didn't see a lot of heart" beneath the Orioles' uniforms.
The comment rankled Orioles Manager Ray Miller then, and still rankles him today. It also explains why Miller derived an extra ounce of pleasure from the Orioles' three-game sweep at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, which culminated tonight with a 2-1 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 47,988, the Orioles' fifth straight victory.
"I'm not going to stoop that low," Miller said when asked about avenging last year. "They're a young club. I thought we kind of out-hustled them a little bit."
Tonight, the Orioles got a 101-pitch six-hitter from Scott Erickson, who has shaken his early season funk; solo homers from Will Clark and Harold Baines, the latter giving Baines the all-time record for home runs by a designated hitter (220, passing Don Baylor); sterling defense from half of their infield of the future, Jerry Hairston and Ryan Minor; and a pair of dazzling throws from catcher Charles Johnson, who threw out a runner at second from his knees and another at first.
Meanwhile, the Expos gave up a stolen base when neither their shortstop nor second baseman covered the bag, and, in general, looked like a 33-54 team.
Miller implored his team before this series began to try to pick up one game per week on the wild-card lead -- and already this week the Orioles (39-51) have picked up two, while putting together their third winning streak this season of at least five games.
"With what went on the first half, we can't look any further ahead than tomorrow," Clark said. "It's the ultimate one-day-at-a-time [situation]."
Erickson had averaged nearly 18 pitches per inning this season entering tonight, which has prevented him from occupying his usual spot among the league's leaders in innings pitched. But tonight, he needed an average of fewer than 11 pitches per inning to breeze through the first seven innings.
He was helped by the Expos' free-swinging hitters. Nine times in the first seven innings, the Expos put the first pitch into play. As a result, Erickson never allowed a runner past first base until the eighth.
"It helps when you throw strikes. When you throw a lot of balls, they can afford to be patient," Erickson said.
The Expos finally scored in the eighth, when Michael Barrett hit a leadoff triple and scored on Mike Mordecai's groundout, and they loaded the bases with two outs on singles by Shane Andrews and Wilton Guerrero and a walk to Jose Vidro. However, Erickson got Rondell White to ground out to second to end the inning.
Erickson (5-8), who has begun pausing at the top of his delivery as a way to slow down batters, got all but four of his outs tonight on ground balls or strikeouts, another sign that the right-hander is back. He is 4-0 with a 3.97 earned run average in his last eight starts. "I think I've straightened things out," he said.
"Scotty is an extreme believer in his ability, even to the point that when balls are up, he still believes they're down," Miller said.
The Orioles put the leadoff man on base in each of the first three innings against Expos starter Dustin Hermanson (3-8), who has not won since May 8, but failed to score each time. It took Clark's homer to right with one out in the fourth to get the Orioles on the scoreboard. Baines followed an inning later with a 443-blast to right-center, earning a curtain call.
Miller would admit to no special joy in beating Alou and the Expos. And a three-game sweep needs no extra sweetening. But clearly Miller relished the achievement.
"I didn't appreciate what was said up there [last year] because we had about 17 healthy players," he said. "I took offense to that. Tonight, I thought they were a little flat, and we out-hustled them."
Data: Orioles vs. New York Mets, tonight at 8:05, Monday and Tuesday at 7:35 p.m.
Tickets remaining: 1,200 for tonight, 6,500 for Monday, 4,000 for Tuesday.
TV: ESPN tonight, HTS on Monday and Tuesday.
Radio: WTOP-1500, WBAL-1090, WTOP-FM-107.7, WMJS-FM-92.7.
Records: Orioles 39-51; Mets 52-40.
Pitchers: Tonight -- Orioles RHP Juan Guzman (4-7, 4.31 ERA) vs. RHP Masato Yoshii (6-7, 5.02); Monday -- RHP Jason Johnson (1-3, 5.93) vs. RHP Octavio Dotel (1-1, 6.61); Tuesday -- RHP Sidney Ponson (8-6, 3.94) vs. LHP Al Leiter (8-6, 4.76).
CAPTION: Harold Baines gets hand from Manager Ray Miller, others, after record 220th career home run as a DH.
CAPTION: Expos' Michael Barrett is tagged out at first base by Will Clark after being picked off by catcher Charles Johnson. Johnson also threw out a runner at second.