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Baseball
Tim Kurkjian
May 20, 1991
The End of an Era?
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May 20, 1991

Baseball

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Belliard has, as always, been brilliant defensively, but through Sunday he was tied with the Reds' Barry Larkin and the Pirates' Jay Bell for the RBI lead among the league's shortstops, with 13. In a total of 208 at bats for Pittsburgh over the last two years, Belliard drove in only 14 runs. On May 8 he hit doubles in successive innings. He had three doubles last year, four in 1989 and zero in '88.

"I was surprised to get an RBI in two straight games," says Belliard, who knocked in a total of eight runs in two consecutive games last week. "[Former Pirate teammates Barry] Bonds and [Bobby] Bonilla asked me, 'Are you going to lead the league in RBIs?' They also asked, 'Why didn't you do that when you were here?' "

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

The Orioles' Ben McDonald and the Blue Jays' John Olerud, the first two 1989 draftees to reach the majors, have received a lot of attention, and deservedly so. But the third player to make it, pitcher Scott Erickson, is playing better than either of them. Less than two years after leaving the University of Arizona, Erickson, 23, has become the Twins' ace. On May 7 he threw eight shutout innings before giving up three runs in the ninth against the Red Sox to run his scoreless-innings streak to 30 and tie Frank Viola's club record. That performance also left Erickson one inning short of becoming the first pitcher since the Dodgers' Orel Hershiser in 1988 to throw three straight shutouts. Then on Sunday, Erickson worked seven more scoreless innings in an 8-3 defeat of the Tigers, raising his record to 5-1 and lowering his ERA to 1.45.

After jumping from Double A Orlando to Minnesota in June 1990, Erickson had the lowest ERA (2.87) for a Twins' rookie since Doug Corbett in '80. As of Sunday, his record since Sept. 1 was 10-2, and Minnesota failed to score a run for him in the two defeats. Erickson, who is 6'4", 225 pounds, has a nasty slider and a fastball that either sinks or bores in on righthanded hitters. Twins catcher Junior Ortiz calls Erickson "the hardest pitcher I've ever caught" because his ball moves so much.

Despite his heroics, Erickson doesn't look good on the mound. His stirrup socks extend down so close to his shoes that one cannot see a trace of his white sanitary hose. He looks as if he were wearing black dress socks. "I keep my socks down; it helps me keep my ball down," says Erickson. "It looks like I'm wearing hightops. I've always done it this way. I'm not changing now."

Outfielder Kirby Puckett, who calls Erickson "Superman" because of his resemblance to actor Christopher Reeve, says Erickson's socks look "ugly, but I'm not telling him. He's bigger than me. He's bigger than Superman." Lately, he has been pitching like a man of steel.

Orel History
The Dodgers are encouraged by Orel Hershiser's progress in his comeback from last April's shoulder surgery. He will probably be ready to pitch in the majors before the All-Star break. Hershiser fared well in his first outing since the surgery, pitching five scoreless innings for the Class A Bakersfield Dodgers on May 8. Attendance for the game was 4,048, and an additional 3,000 fans had to be turned away. "This is the biggest thing that ever happened here," said Bakersfield's general manager, Rick Smith. "Well, we had a George Strait concert once. That might have been bigger." But did Strait pay for the post-game spread for the Bakersfield team? Hershiser did.

Short Hops...

Because Reds reliever Rob Dibble was recently suspended for four days for throwing a baseball about 400 feet into the centerfield stands, where it hit a woman on the arm (page 54), it seems only right that Indians outfielder Albert Belle should be suspended for a week for deliberately striking a man with a ball from 15 feet last Saturday. The man had reportedly been taunting Belle from the stands. In 1987 Belle was suspended from the LSU baseball team for going into the stands after a fan who had yelled a racial remark at him....

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