If 1999 ends up being remembered as the year Brady Anderson lost the Baltimore Orioles' center field job, it might also be remembered as the year he reclaimed the leadoff spot. While the Orioles think they have a better center fielder in the fold, Anderson continues to build a strong case as the best leadoff man in the league this year.
Anderson, in the lineup tonight as the designated hitter against the Minnesota Twins, homered twice and drove in four runs in the Orioles' 10-0 victory in front of 9,564 at the Metrodome. The homers give Anderson 21 for the season, his most since clubbing 50 in 1996.
One night after veteran Scott Erickson shut out the Twins on three hits, Jason Johnson, Gabe Molina and B.J. Ryan -- all 25 or younger -- combined to blank them again.
Anderson entered tonight in a 3-for-22 slump with eight strikeouts since Sept. 1, which also happens to be the first game he was moved out of center field so the Orioles could look at prospect Eugene Kingsale. Some in the Orioles' hierarchy believe Kingsale can play center field next season, allowing them to move Anderson to left field. Anderson made clear his disappointment.
But tonight, apparently having made peace with the move, Anderson led off the game with a home run off LaTroy Hawkins -- the 36th leadoff homer of Anderson's career, second-most in baseball history behind Rickey Henderson (75). He also drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and homered for a second time into the upper deck in right.
"Everyone has to go through adjustments in their career," Anderson said, playing down the move to left as a reason for his slump. "I'm not going to use that as an excuse. It wasn't that, and even if it was, [the slump] was my fault anyway."
Three weeks ago in Baltimore, after Hawkins pitched a complete game against them, the Orioles hinted that he was throwing an illegal pitch. If he was, he must have ditched it tonight; the Orioles pounded him for eight runs on 10 hits.
While veterans Anderson, Surhoff (2 for 4 with a homer) and Albert Belle (3 for 5 with a double) carried the bulk of the Orioles' offense, rookies made important contributions. Second baseman Jerry Hairston went 2 for 4 with a double and two RBI, played impressive defense and combined with rookie shortstop Jesse Garcia to turn a spectacular double play in the seventh.
Johnson (6-7), another promising young player, gave the Orioles five shutout innings, and having thrown just 70 pitches to that point appeared ready to break the seven-inning barrier for the first time in his career.
But a nagging blister on his right middle finger, which has been bothering him for several weeks, forced Johnson to leave. He may be forced to miss a start to let the blister heal. Johnson, who has stated a goal of pitching a complete game by season's end, said, "I thought this might be it. I guess it's just not meant to be."
For Anderson, tonight's game represented further proof of his personal renaissance as an offensive force. His batting average of .291 is 55 points higher than last season, when some questioned his suitability as a leadoff hitter, and his on-base percentage of .414 was 10th in the league entering tonight.
Without sacrificing power, Anderson has also rediscovered the art of base stealing. His 34 steals are his most since 1994, giving him a chance to surpass 20 homers and 40 stolen bases for the first time since 1992, his breakthrough season.
"I don't really count on homers," he said. "Before the season, I was thinking 20-20 would be a great season."
Orioles Notes: Twenty-year-old left-hander Matt Riley, who will make his major league debut here Thursday night, will not be on a strict pitch-count, Miller said, adding, "But I'm not going to let him go real far." . . .
Cal Ripken was moved up to fifth in the lineup tonight, something Miller said he might do more often to help Ripken reach the 3,000-hit mark. Ripken went 0 for 4 tonight and hit into a double play in the first, the 323rd double play of his career, tying him with Carl Yastrzemski for most in American League history. . . .
Reliever Jim Corsi (strained hamstring) is expected to be activated from the disabled list Thursday.