Ben McDonald was routed and Gregg Olson was almost perfect, but the stage yesterday belonged to the man in the middle, the pitcher the Baltimore Orioles call Big Bird.
After a three-week stint in Class AA baseball, Bob Milacki came ** back in style with 5 1/3 scoreless innings and earned the victory in a 5-4 decision over Milwaukee that salvaged the finale of a three-game series for the Orioles.
His "hold" was the pivotal factor in a game in which Cal Ripken continued his surge with four RBI, Craig Worthington drove home the winning run after failing to execute a strange squeeze play and the Orioles outfield threw two men out in a wild third inning to help the team stay in the game.
"I was a little more nervous here than at Hagerstown," Milacki said. "But I threw all my pitches [four] for strikes, and when I fell behind, I could throw something besides a fastball."
The return of Milacki was a welcome sight for the Orioles, who haven't been hitting well, have lost injured slugger Glenn Davis and are 2-5 at home this season.
"He is pitching the way he has to to be successful," manager Frank Robinson said. "Get ahead, mix them up and get hitters off balance. He gave us exactly what we needed, someone to come in and stop the other team."
The Orioles were behind, 4-1, in the third and McDonald had been racked for six straight hits when Milacki arrived.
The first man he faced, B.J. Surhoff, flared "a fastball down and out" for a single to left, but Brady Anderson threw out Darryl Hamilton at the plate to end the inning.
"That lifted a lot off me," Milacki said. "From then on, I felt comfortable. It was good to be in a [close] game like this. My concentration and intensity were way up."
He didn't allow another hit and got out of rhythm only in the fifth inning, when two walks created his lone jam.
"You know he's strong when he maintains his fastball," said pitching coach Al Jackson. "He was so up and down in spring training. But the velocity was there today."
The Brewers had a different view of the play at the plate that ended their third-inning outburst, Hamilton complaining to plate umpire Derryl Cousins that he had beaten the tag of Ernie Whitt.
"I don't think he was in the right position to make the call," Hamilton said. "I think he was blocked out by the catcher more than anybody. But he made it. A play like this might not seem big at the time, but in a one-run game, it makes a big difference."
Whitt said Cousins told him that he had Hamilton "sliding just off the plate. He told me he thought I got my foot down enough to slide him off."
That play stopped a bizarre inning in which Joe Orsulak threw out Franklin Stubbs trying to stretch a hit into a double and the Brewers went 7-for-7 (a sacrifice was the third out). Orsulak's assist was his fifth, most in the majors.
Milacki shut out the Brewers through the eighth, and Olson finished, surviving a hit by Bill Spiers when Whitt threw Spiers out on a one-out steal attempt.
"Jackson came out to talk to Ollie about using the slide step on the first pitch because he might be going," Whitt said. "He was, and we got him with a fastball down and away."
The Orioles fought back to within 4-3 in the third on Ripken's two-run single, tied the score in the fifth on another RBI single by Ripken, then went ahead in the eighth.
Even that was bizarre. Infield singles by Ripken and Leo Gomez and two outs set it up for Worthington, who tried to bunt although he is one of the team's slowest baserunners and would have had to beat it out for a run to score.
"There was no play on," Robinson said. "He just saw the third baseman back and decided to do it."
On the next pitch, Worthington singled through the middle against Darren Holmes, who had beaten the Orioles on Friday night.
Milacki made the comeback possible by no-hitting the Brewers through 16 official at-bats.
"It helps to start off so well," he said. "Sure, I'd like to get into the rotation as soon as possible, but if I don't, I'm just happy to be up here.
"I just happened to be here when Glenn went on the disabled list. They asked me if I'd pitch out of the bullpen. They didn't have to ask again."
+ Brewers-Orioles scoring Brewers first: Molitor grounded out to second. Gantner doubled right. Sheffield struck out. Yount singled to center, Gantner scored. Stubbs popped out to second. Brewers 1, Orioles 0.
Orioles first: Devereaux doubled to right. Anderson sacrificed to pitcher, Devereaux to third. C.Ripken grounded out to second, Devereaux scored. Orsulak walked. Gomez flied out to right. Brewers 1, Orioles 1.