The Associated Press

INNEAPOLIS The way Scott Erickson was pitching, it couldn't have been April 27, 1994.

It had to be April 26, 1991, when Erickson beat Seattle for his first big-league shutout. Or maybe May 1, 1991, when Erickson blanked Boston on a two-hitter.

Or May 28, 1991, when Erickson guaranteed a win over Texas and delivered a 3-0 beauty that put the Minnesota Twins back into the pennant race. Or June 24, 1991, when Erickson's two-hitter against New York gave him his 12th consecutive victory.

Was Scott Erickson really pitching a no-hitter and beating the Milwaukee Brewers 6-0 Wednesday night? Or had the Metrodome become a time machine?

At any moment, Rod Serling would be standing in the batter's box.

"Submitted for your approval," he would say. "Just another home game for the Minnesota Twins, but not for Scott Erickson. Mr. Erickson, you see, is a visitor ... a visitor to the Twilight Zone."

It's the only rational explanation for what was taking place, because the Erickson on the mound could not have been the Erickson who had become baseball's most hittable pitcher.

It had to be the Erickson of 1991.

Back then, he would stare coldly at the batter, like a shark ready to sink its teeth into its victim, before ominously peering around his black glove for his catcher's sign. He wore his stirrups so low that only his black socks and black cleats could be seen below his pant legs. "I love black," Erickson would say.

He was Darth Vader with a baseball, pitching's Prince of Darkness. He terrorized batters with a darting 90-plus mph fastball and a diving slider.

Yes, that Scott Erickson was back, sprinting to the mound to start each inning, wasting no time delivering each pitch. And the Brewers had the misfortune of being stuck in the Twilight Zone with him.

"That's the beautiful thing about this game you never know what'll happen," Milwaukee manager Phil Garner said. "Except it wasn't beautiful for our side."

Don't worry, Phil, it was only a time warp. It had to be.

It had to be the Erickson of 1991, who went 20-8, who was 12-3 at the All-Star break, who turned the Twins' season around, who finished second in AL Cy Young balloting, who helped Minnesota win the World Series.

It certainly couldn't have been the Erickson who had gone 22-34 since the start of 1992, who had been 9-24 in his previous 40 starts, who had gone 8-19 last season in leading all big-league pitchers in hits allowed and losses, who had let batters belt him at a .384 clip this season, who had a 7.48 ERA as part of a rotation that had an awesomely awful 8.44 mark.

In reality, Erickson hadn't changed his routine. It's just that he had pitched so poorly that no one bothered to notice that he still wore his stirrups low and still sprinted to the mound. All anyone noticed was that his fastball wasn't as fast, that his slider wasn't sliding as sharply and that batters no longer feared the man in black.

That's why Wednesday seemed like something from another world and another time.

Even Erickson experienced the feeling.

"I kind of reverted back to the slider I had a couple of years ago," the 26-year-old right-hander said. "I was just throwing in the pen the other day and it felt a little different. I don't know if it was a different grip or just a different arm angle or something. It's a very touchy pitch. The release point and all that stuff has to be perfect."

Erickson, an All-American for the University of Arizona in 1989, pitched Minnesota's first no-hitter since Dean Chance in 1967. The majors' only other no-hitter this season was by Atlanta's Kent Mercker, April 8 in Los Angeles.

Erickson struck out five and hit a batter. He also walked four including two during a hold-your-breath ninth inning that ended with left fielder Alex Cole barely avoiding a collision with shortstop Pat Meares to catch Greg Vaughn's shallow fly.

"He really concentrated for all nine innings," Twins manager Tom Kelly said. "I just thought he had a little more zip and direction."

Indeed, he had the zip and direction of the Scott Erickson of three years ago.

It was 1991 again, and pitching's Prince of Darkness was back throwing bullets. Read Next Article