The Baltimore Orioles headed home late tonight with a 13-game winning streak and a renewed sense of purpose, but without their starting third baseman. While Cal Ripken was in Cleveland getting some grim news, the Orioles were thumping the playoff-bound Texas Rangers, 7-4, in front of 34,007 at The Ballpark.
Afterward, the Orioles received the news that Ripken would have surgery Thursday morning in Cleveland to relieve the nerve irritation in his back, effectively ending Ripken's season.
"It says a lot about the guy that he was able to go this long without having" surgery, said reliever Mike Timlin, who has closed out the last five Orioles victories.
The 13-game winning streak matches the second-longest in franchise history, and is one shy of the record set in 1973. The streak is also the longest in the American League this season.
Scott Erickson (15-11) won his fifth consecutive start for the Orioles, who now stand just two games below .500. The Orioles' offense, rejuvenated by an infusion of youth this month, bashed four homers, including the first of infielder Jesse Garcia's career.
Garcia, a native of Robstown, Tex., had some 80 family members and friends in attendance. "Thank God this wasn't a weekend," Garcia said, "or the whole town would have been here."
Facing a doubleheader Thursday in Baltimore against the Oakland A's -- makeup games for the two that were rained out by Hurricane Floyd last week -- the Orioles' bullpen was saved by the efforts of Scott Erickson, who pitched into the ninth inning before giving way to Timlin with the potential tying run at the plate.
Timlin got two ground outs and a shallow fly ball for his 26th save, his 17th in 18 chances since the all-star break.
"To me, there are two things that have been different for us in the second half," said Manager Ray Miller. "One, we're getting production out of the bottom of the lineup. And two, when I bring someone in from the bullpen, they're getting someone out."
Back-to-back homers by Charles Johnson and Brady Anderson in the fifth inning brought the Orioles back from a 4-1 deficit. The homers by Garcia, Johnson and Anderson all came off Rangers starter Rick Helling (13-10), who has allowed a league-high 38 homers this season.
Johnson's homer was 16th this season, but his first since Aug. 6, a span of 41 games. Once pegged as a potential 30-homer hitter at Camden Yards, Johnson instead has worked on shortening his swing, which produced nine straight hits earlier this month, one shy of the team record.
Erickson put the Orioles in a 4-1 hole in the first inning, as six straight Rangers batters reached base, but he can honestly say he made only one bad pitch -- the fastball that former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro crushed into the right field stands for a two-run homer. The rest of the inning consisted of ground balls that got through, plus a walk.
Despite a 1-8 start and incessant trade rumors throughout June and July, Erickson nonetheless has assumed his regular place atop the league's innings-pitched list.
"I'm trying," Erickson said. "I have to shoot for something."
Orioles Notes: Second baseman Delino DeShields had outpatient surgery to relieve an entrapped nerve in his right quadriceps and will miss the rest of the season.