While the Baltimore Orioles go about their single-minded business on the field, the machinery of the franchise's bigger business continues to grind forward, as Saturday's trade deadline draws nearer. An 8-6 victory over the Texas Rangers tonight in front of 41,692 at Camden Yards did nothing to stop it.
It appears left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes will be the first Oriole to depart. General Manager Frank Wren told Rhodes that he will be traded Thursday or Friday, baseball sources said today. Rhodes, 29, is being pursued by as many as seven teams, although the Cleveland Indians appear to be the front-runners.
Tonight, starting pitcher Scott Erickson (7-8) went six strong innings, and catcher Charles Johnson drove in four runs with a pair of doubles, as the Orioles (46-54) remained within nine games of the Toronto Blue Jays in the wild-card race.
Orioles third baseman Cal Ripken, who entered the game with 399 career homers, failed to hit number 400 tonight, but went 3 for 5, scored two runs and narrowly missed getting the historic homer when his drive down the left field line in the eighth curved foul.
On Thursday afternoon, the Orioles will go for the series victory. Juan Guzman, who might join Rhodes on the way out of Baltimore, will pitch for the Orioles.
Rhodes, one of the top middle relievers in baseball the last several years, has struggled this season to a 6.17 earned run average, chafed at his usage in Manager Ray Miller's bullpen and endured an unsuccessful stint as co-closer before asking to be returned to middle relief.
Rhodes may be the only player the Orioles deal. There is continued interest from several teams in Guzman, but Wren has indicated he would be content to keep Guzman through this season, and get a high draft pick as compensation when Guzman leaves via free agency after the season.
Teams continue to call about Erickson, but Wren has told them Erickson is off the trading block. Tonight was another example of why the Orioles want him in their rotation next season. Following a 1-8 start, Erickson is 6-0 with a 3.95 ERA in his last 10 starts.
"Tonight, I pitched on a good night," Erickson said. "Sometimes that's more important than throwing well. We scored eight runs. I consider tonight a lucky win."
Erickson (7-8) departed a winner thanks to back-to-back, two-out RBI singles in the bottom of the sixth by Mike Bordick and B.J. Surhoff, which turned a 4-4 tie into a 6-4 Orioles lead.
An inning later, Johnson gave the Orioles two insurance runs when he hit his second two-run double of the game. The runs became important when Doug Johns gave up a two-run homer to Ruben Mateo in the top of the eighth. But closer Mike Timlin retired the Rangers in the ninth for his 12th save.
Through five innings, all Erickson gave up was a homer by Todd Zeile to lead off the fourth, and he carried a 4-1 lead into the sixth. But Erickson gave up consecutive walks to Rusty Greer and Rafael Palmeiro to open the sixth, and the Rangers turned it into a three-run inning.
"Scotty was rolling along pretty good, and for some reason he got out of sequence," Miller said.
For the second night in a row, the Orioles were victimized by Luis Alicea, a light-hitting second baseman who was hitting .165 entering this series. Tonight, Alicea produced a two-out, two-run single in the sixth inning off Erickson that tied the score at 4.
The bottom half of the Orioles' lineup did most of the damage against Rangers starter John Burkett, starting with a two-run double down the left field line by Johnson, the number nine hitter, in the second.
Part of Johnson's success at the plate tonight can be attributed to Delino DeShields frequently being on base ahead of him, twice scoring from first base on Johnson's doubles.
"Our offense is much more balanced when you have that left-handed bat right where [DeShields] is," Miller said.
Orioles Notes: The Orioles have decided against promoting prized left-handed pitching prospect Matt Riley from Class AA Bowie to Class AAA Rochester in August, but are still leaning toward bringing him up to the majors in September.
Riley, who turns 20 on Aug. 2, likely will remain at Bowie while the Baysox are in a pennant race. He is 7-2 with a 2.12 ERA there since being promoted from Class A Frederick in May.
Calling up Riley to the Orioles "has been talked about," Miller said. ". . . Obviously, it would be nice to have a left-handed starter." . . . Center fielder Brady Anderson left the game in the bottom of the seventh with a sore left ankle, but is not expected to miss any games. . . . Right-handed reliever Mike Fetters, who underwent surgery on his right elbow in June, has begun soft-tossing at home outside Phoenix, and is expected to begin throwing off a mound within a week. He could return to the Orioles, after a rehabilitation assignment, some time in August.