May 1997 was a very good month for the Baltimore Orioles. They entered the month with a 16-7 record, 4 games ahead of the 2nd place New York Yankees. After beating the Cleveland Indians 8-5 on May 31st, their record was an 36-15 with a ridiculous 8.5 game lead over the Yankees.
So how did the Orioles go 20-8 and double their lead in the AL East in a month? It started with the hitters, who scored 158 runs (6.32 per game) and ended with the pitchers, who allowed only 100 (3.57/game), including bullpen ERA of just 2.45. Basically everything was working for the team during the month of May.
The starting rotation was anchored by the threesome of Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, and Jimmy Key; the team combined to go 16-2 in games they started during the month. Mussina was being Mussina with 40 ⅓ innings pitched over six starts, a 3.35 ERA, and a K/BB of 6.8. And Key was doing just what the Orioles signed him to do. But the biggest boon to the rotation was the bounce back of Erickson.
The Orioles traded for Erickson mid-way through the 1995 season and in sixteen starts for the Orioles that year he was a workhorse, pitching seven complete games including four of his final five starts that season, two of which were shutouts. But 1996 wasn't as good for the sinkerballer. He still put up a ton of innings (222 ⅓ innings) but his ERA inflated to 5.02 with a career low in K/9 at just 4.0. For 1997 to be a big success for the Orioles, they needed Erickson to turn it around. And in this month, he did.
Erickson made six starts for the Orioles in the month and averaged over 7 inning per game with an ERA of 2.93. The Orioles didn't lose a game he started and if you take out his final start of the month, a dud against the Yankees in which the Orioles slugged their way to a win, his ERA was 1.89. Was Erickson the best pitcher on the team at this point in the season? No, that honor of course goes to Mussina. But it takes more than one star and Erickson did more than his part.
As for the offense, well, if you were a regular and your name wasn't Mike Bordick, you had a pretty good month. From Brady Anderson taking 20 walks to B.J. Surhoff slugging slugging .614 to Chris Hoiles getting on base over 40% of the time, May was a good time to be a hitter in Baltimore. As as team they hit 37 home runs, 40 doubles, and had a walk rate of over 10%.
May ended on an up note for the Orioles as they went out on a five-game win streak and didn't only lose more than one game in a row twice in the month, and never more than two in a row. The pitchers were pitching well, the hitters were hitting well, and they were on cruise control in first place. They were flying high into June, which would turn out to be a tougher month for a number of reasons.