Defensive range is not considered one of the Baltimore Orioles' strengths. They are mostly content if the defense makes solid plays on whichever balls it can get to. But because Scott Erickson induces so many ground balls, the defense tends to be a split-second quicker behind him.
Tonight, that split-second and those extra yards of range won a game for the Orioles.
The Orioles squandered runners all over the base paths, but Erickson threw his sinking fastball over the plate and let shortstop Mike Bordick and his teammates do the rest in a 4-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals in front of 14,222 at Kauffman Stadium.
The victory brought Erickson (10-10) to .500 for the first time this season, a remarkable personal comeback considering his 1-8 start. He threw eight strong innings tonight, after a complete-game shutout in his previous start.
"It was a battle, but I finally got there," Erickson said. "I'll take 10-10 now considering the circumstances I had to come back from."
Bordick, one Orioles defender whose range is never questioned, had one of those extraordinary games that causes Manager Ray Miller to campaign for Gold Glove votes for him, handling 12 chances flawlessly, including several highlight plays.
"He was just outstanding," Miller said. "You find yourself, every time the game's on the line, praying they hit it to Bordy."
Bordick was everywhere tonight, diving to nab Jeremy Giambi's grounder in the fourth and getting up and throwing a bullet to nip him at first, going deep into the hole to make the play on Ray Holbert's grounder in the fifth, then picking Mike Sweeney's sinking liner off the ground to start a double play that ended the fifth.
As they jogged off the field after that double play, Erickson veered over to Bordick for an appreciative glove-pat. Even if the general baseball public hasn't caught on to Bordick's act, the Orioles' pitchers know where they might be without him.
"With Scotty, you expect every pitch to be hit on the ground in the infield," Bordick said. "It's fun to be a big part of it, diving around out there."
Said Erickson: "If Bordy gets a glove on it, there's a good chance he's going to get it."
Center fielder Brady Anderson also made a diving catch on a sinking liner by Jermaine Dye in the first, and second baseman Delino DeShields ventured behind the second-base bag to make a play on Dye's grounder to lead off the fourth. That play saved a run because two batters later Joe Randa hit a two-run homer off Erickson -- the only runs Erickson yielded in eight innings.
The Orioles took a 3-0 lead in the second inning off starter Dan Reichert (2-2), and put the leadoff man in scoring position with no outs in the third when Albert Belle walked and stole second -- yet the Orioles let the Royals off the hook when both innings ended with Orioles runners being thrown out at the plate.
In the second, Charles Johnson was nailed at the plate by Royals right fielder Dye -- Dye's league-leading 15th assist of the season -- while trying to score from second on B.J. Surhoff's single. An inning later, Belle was cut down at the plate trying to score from second on DeShields's single to center.
It wasn't only the outs at the plate that hurt the Orioles. In the midst of the their three-run second inning, rookie third baseman Ryan Minor struck out with the bases loaded and nobody out. Minor's acute problems at the plate seem to get even worse with runners in scoring position -- he is 2 for 14 with seven strikeouts in that situation this season.
By the top of the ninth, with the Orioles leading 3-2, Miller chose to pinch-hit Derrick May for Minor with a runner on third and one out, and May delivered a sacrifice fly to give the Orioles a key insurance run. Closer Mike Timlin threw a perfect ninth for his 16th save.
The ninth was the only inning in which Bordick did not need to make a play, which is the closest thing to a breather Bordick has had lately. "You think about trying to rest him, and then you see that Scotty's starting," Miller said. "When Scotty's on, it's show time for Bordy."