If Scott Erickson had his way, Metallica would sing every national anthem, he would start every other game and always go the distance, and his name would never be bounced around in trade talks. The first two are not likely to happen any time soon, but Erickson is making progress on the last.
Another strong, tireless effort by Erickson propelled the Baltimore Orioles to a 5-2 victory over the Boston Red Sox tonight in front of a sellout crowd of 33,605 at Fenway Park, completing a two-game mini-sweep. It was the Orioles' third straight victory and eighth in their last 10 games.
At a time when the Orioles are ready to deal a handful of veterans before the July 31 trading deadline, it was one more reason they are slowly pulling Erickson's name out of the fray. Even before tonight's eight-inning gem, teams such as the Colorado Rockies, who covet a sinkerball pitcher such as Erickson, have given up hopes of prying him away.
"Would I prefer to keep him? Yes, I would," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said. "He's a horse, an innings guy. Every time I write Scott Erickson's name down . . . I feel like he's going to give me nine innings."
Tonight, Erickson (6-8) benefited from a triple by Brady Anderson that Boston center fielder Damon Buford lost in the lights and that led to a five-run sixth inning. Albert Belle hit a three-run homer, his 21st, over the famed Green Monster in left, and rookie Jerry Hairston had an RBI single before being sent to Class AAA Rochester after the game to make room for Delino DeShields.
Closer Mike Timlin struck out the side in the ninth, sandwiched around a two-out walk, for his 10th save but his first in exactly one month.
In return, Erickson gave the Orioles eight innings for the third straight start, improving to 5-0 with a 3.76 earned run average in his last nine starts. He walked only two batters while striking out five, the first time since June 9 -- a span of nine starts -- that Erickson struck out more batters than he walked.
"I'm definitely much closer to the pitcher I should be right now than I was in April," Erickson said. "I've definitely turned a corner."
The key sequence came in the sixth, when Erickson was on the verge of losing control of the game as surely as Red Sox starter Jin Ho Cho had a half-inning earlier. The Red Sox had the bases loaded with all-star shortstop Nomar Garciaparra at the plate, nobody out and the Orioles leading 5-0. But Erickson got Garciaparra to ground into a third-to-first double play, then got Troy O'Leary to ground to short to end the inning.
"That was big," third baseman Cal Ripken said. "It had potential to be a big inning. Scotty had great stuff. He was absolutely superb."
The Red Sox loaded the bases again in the seventh and brought the tying run to the plate in a 5-1 game, after an error by Ripken, a single by Trot Nixon and a walk to Jose Offerman with two outs. But Erickson struck out John Valentin on a 3-2 pitch that behaved like a change-up, but was called a slider by Erickson.
Erickson, who signed a five-year contract extension last season, has been careful not to answer questions about his future, saying only that it is something he can't control. Clearly, it flusters him, as does any outside influence that might distract him from his single-minded approach -- such as extra days of rest forced upon him, or too few innings during spring training. Those were two of Erickson's complaints early in the season, when he started 1-8.
"I wasn't ready when the season started," he said tonight. "I developed some bad habits that were tough to correct."
But Erickson is on a regular, every-fifth-day schedule now. His mechanics are greatly improved, and the Orioles have all but decided to keep him around at least another year, to add a veteran to a 2000 rotation that likely will include three pitchers under 25 -- Sidney Ponson, Jason Johnson and Matt Riley.
"You have to have one big inning guy," Miller said. "You want to protect the kids. . . . That's why he was signed long-term."
Orioles Notes: The Orioles activated DeShields from the disabled list after the game, sending Hairston back to Rochester. DeShields, who has been out since June 20 with a strained right hamstring, is expected to play Friday night at home against Anaheim.
Hairston, 22, hit .277 in 25 games since being called up, and impressed the Orioles with his bat, glove and poise. But after hitting .328 with five RBI in his first 17 games, he has gone 4 for 25 (.160) in his last six.
"Jerry was outstanding," Miller said. "It was a tough decision. But he's going to be a big part of our future. There was no way I was going to sit him on the bench and use him as a utility player. He's too good a talent." . . .
Belle released a statement Wednesday to two newspapers, responding to recent speculation about his no-trade clause. "I have not sought nor am I seeking to be traded," said Belle's statement, which was given to the Washington Times and the York Daily Record by Belle's brother, Terry. "I made an election to play in Baltimore, and that's where I plan to continue playing."
Data: Orioles vs. Anaheim Angels, tonight at 7:35, Saturday at 4:05 p.m., Sunday at 1:35 p.m.
Tickets remaining: 5,500 for tonight, 1,500 for Saturday, 5,000 for Sunday.
TV: WJZ-13 and WBDC-50 tonight, WTTG-5, WBFF-45 on Saturday, WBDC-50 and WNUV-54 on Sunday.
Radio: WTOP-1500, WBAL-1090, WTOP-FM-107.7 and WMJS-FM-92.7.
Records: Orioles 42-53, Angels 42-52.
Pitchers: Friday -- Orioles RHP Juan Guzman (4-8, 4.53 ERA) vs. Angels RHP Mike Fyhrie (0-2, 9.24); Saturday -- Orioles RHP Jason Johnson (1-4, 5.73) vs. Angels RHP Ken Hill (3-8, 5.23); Sunday -- Orioles RHP Sidney Ponson (9-6, 3.74) vs. Angels LHP Chuck Finley (5-9, 5.59).