When B.J. Surhoff spurned more lucrative offers to remain in Baltimore this winter, neither he nor the Orioles could have known what they were getting themselves into. The Orioles knew Surhoff would play every day, play hard and play smart; they could not have imagined he would drive in 100 runs and possibly collect 30 homers and 200 hits.
And Surhoff, who chose to stay because he wanted to win, never would have guessed that the Orioles would have such a bleak present and questionable future. But today, in a crisp 4-1 victory over the Seattle Mariners in front of 44,891 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Surhoff and the Orioles rewarded each other's mutual faith and staked their claims for next season's direction.
Surhoff's 27th home run, a three-run shot in the fifth inning, lifted the Orioles to their sixth straight victory and gave him 101 RBI this season. It also made a winner out of Scott Erickson (13-11), who pitched his second straight complete game and improved his record to 12-3 with a 3.63 ERA in his last 19 starts.
This is Surhoff's first 100-RBI season in the majors. On pace for 217 hits and 31 homers, both of which also would be career highs, Surhoff, 35, is enjoying the finest season of his 13-year career.
"It's been a long time coming," Surhoff said.
Still, his most satisfying individual season will have a bitter aftertaste because of what has happened around him. The Orioles improved to nine games under .500 for the first time since July 29, but have long since conceded the season.
Even more alarming to Surhoff than the 1999 season are signs that the Orioles want to rebuild in 2000. Although he has become one of the best left fielders in the game, the Orioles are experimenting with a radical change for 2000, with rookie Eugene Kingsale taking over in center, Brady Anderson moving to left and Surhoff moving to an as-yet-unspecified position.
"I'd rather play left field than go somewhere else," he said, "but they know that. Hopefully, it will all take care of itself."
To Surhoff, the idea of a rebuilding season in Baltimore next season--which is implied in the Kingsale experiment--is at odds with the reasons he chose to stay with the Orioles, signing a four-year, $18.5 million contract when he might have gotten more elsewhere.
"When you look at the nucleus we have here, breaking up the team is not the answer," he said. "What are you going to do? Bring up a bunch of kids who haven't really proven themselves? Maybe they've played well this year, but they have to make it through a whole season first.
"The reason we have the [veteran] people we have here is that they've proven themselves. I'm not saying the kids can't play, but I wouldn't want to see us going into rebuilding mode."
Still, despite the state of the Orioles in 1999, Surhoff said he does not regret signing here. "This is where I wanted to play," he said. "The easy thing would be for me to say I made a bad decision. The reason I came back was to win. It would be very rewarding to stay and play through something like this. That way, when you get the chance to win, it makes it that much more rewarding."
Asked if he took more satisfaction out of 1996-97, when he put up more modest numbers for the playoff-bound Orioles, Surhoff does not hesitate.
"No question," he said. "It's nice to say you drove in 100 runs, but it's nicer to say you had a chance to go to the playoffs."
A lack of focus hardly seems to be a problem for Surhoff, who accepts and ever embraces the label of "grinder," even though grinders usually don't put up numbers like he does. Surhoff said the individual accomplishment he is proudest of this season is having played in every game.
When Surhoff awoke this morning, he was feeling 142 games' worth of "pain all over." But he said nothing and was in the lineup in left field, extending baseball's current longest active streak of consecutive games played to 305. He then topped it off with a three-run blast to right off starter John Halama (11-7).
"Sometimes when you feel your worst, you play your best," he said. "But the things you can always do is run out every [ground] ball and play hard on defense. Those are the only things you can control."
Orioles Notes: Third baseman Cal Ripken singled in the sixth inning, giving him 2,981 career hits with 19 games left to play. However, a second-inning strikeout ended his streak of reaching base in eight straight plate appearances.