Selected fans participated in a fly ball catching contest before tonight's game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It was an activity that wound up foreshadowing actual events when Jeff Conine hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning that turned out to be the decisive run in the Orioles' 5-4 win over Detroit.
Conine, starting in place of American League hits leader B.J. Surhoff, scored Mike Bordick with a medium-range fly to center off reliever Francisco Cordero. It gave Scott Erickson his seventh win in his last eight decisions in front of 48,505.
Erickson (8-9) faced just three batters in four of his seven innings but struggled in the other three. He gave up a two-run homer to Dean Palmer in the fourth and walked the bases loaded with two outs in the fifth before yielding a two-run single by Juan Encarnacion.
Erickson improved to 16-3 against Detroit for his career. He gave up six hits and five walks before yielding to Scott Kamieniecki, who went one inning, giving up one hit. Mike Timlin pitched a scoreless ninth for his fifth consecutive save and 14th of the season to hand the Tigers their 10th loss in 11 games.
"I've always said with Scotty [Erickson] that he's like the giant locomotive going down the [track]," Orioles Manager Ray Miller said. "He gets off the track and just keeps plowing along and he'll get right back on the track and keep going, and you never really know how long he's going to be off or how long he's going to be on. But he's a battler."
The Orioles (49-61) gave Erickson an early cushion by scoring three runs in the first inning on Harold Baines's 22nd home run of the season.
With two outs, Will Clark singled a 3-2 pitch to left-center, and Albert Belle followed with a bouncer between short and second. Tigers rookie starter Dave Borkowski (0-3) then got an 0-2 count on Baines before the 40-year-old deposited the next pitch, a slider down and in, over the scoreboard in right field for the 370th homer of his career, giving Baltimore a 3-0 lead.
"The last time I saw it, it bounced off that warehouse over there," Miller said. "It's not like Harold hasn't done that a few times before."
Said Baines: "Fortunately I got enough of the ball to hit it out of the ballpark. It was a decent pitch."
Detroit scored in the fourth when Damion Easley singled to lead off the inning and scored when Palmer homered to right field, his team-high 27th.
Erickson gave up two more hits that inning and walked Easley, Palmer and Tony Clark to load the bases in the fifth. Encarnacion then ripped Erickson's next offering past diving third baseman Ryan Minor to score two runs. Catalanotto flied out to right to end the inning.
"When Palmer hit the home run off a slider, [Erickson] got away from the slider because he made a mistake with it or didn't want to throw it," Miller said. "Once you get away from one pitch and you start overthrowing the other one and start missing your fastball, that concerns me. The walks concern me a little bit."
Erickson got away from his signature ground ball outs. Nine of his last 11 came on fly balls.
Borkowski retired eight consecutive batters headed into the sixth, when he allowed a leadoff single to Brady Anderson. Mike Bordick followed with a single, and after fouling off two pitches with a full count, Clark walked to load the bases. Belle, who stranded five runners in the game, popped out to first. Baines drew another full-count walk to force in the tying run, and Conine followed with the winning sacrifice fly.