KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Bob Milacki was the picture of efficiency last night, which is just what his manager had in mind.
John Oates has been all over Milacki to throw more first-pitch strikes -- to get ahead of the count and stay there. That is the gospel of good pitching according to Oates, and it was Milacki's formula for success at Royals Stadium.
The Baltimore Orioles right-hander challenged everyone in the Kansas City Royals lineup and beat them all in a 1-0 victory that affirmed everything Oates ever believed about the art of throwing a baseball.
You want first-pitch strikes? Milacki threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 25 batters he faced. You want efficiency? Milacki needed just 72 pitches to get through eight innings. He pitched to just one batter over the eight-inning minimum (25 hitters, 24 outs) to overcome a combined three-hit performance by Royals right-handers Tom Gordon and Storm Davis.
"I was throwing all of my pitches for strikes, and I was going after the majority of hitters," Milacki said. "That's the way I used to pitch. I was changing speeds, and when I can throw the changeup in the strike zone, I don't have to be perfect with my fastball."
The only thing Milacki didn't do was pitch a complete game. Oates brought on closer Gregg Olson in the ninth to complete the three-hit shutout and nail down the first 1-0 victory by the Orioles staff since Mike Flanagan defeated the Minnesota Twins by that score July 19, 1986.
It was Olson's 11th save of the season, and it put some success between him and that nightmarish performance on Wednesday at Memorial Stadium, but this game belonged to Milacki.
He had not had a really strong performance since June 1, when he held the Boston Red Sox to one hit in 5 2/3 innings. In the three games before last night, he was 1-0, but had given up 13 earned runs in 16 innings (7.31 ERA).
Oates has seen the same pattern throughout the season. Milacki (3-2) appeared hesitant to challenge hitters, so he was falling behind on the count and the Orioles were falling behind on the scoreboard.
"He's got to pitch ahead," Oates said before the game. "That's what we've been telling him all along. Throw your best pitch in the strike zone. I'd rather see a strike on the first pitch than a ball, no matter what happens."
Milacki apparently took that to heart last night. He threw first-pitch strikes to 10 of the first 12 batters and retired all 12.
"It's real important to have some success because it builds up your confidence and gives you something to build on," Milacki said. "Today, I just tried to relax and go right after them."
Gordon (4-5) also threw a lot of strikes. He struck out 10 in seven innings, but a leadoff walk cost him the deciding run in the fourth.
Cal Ripken took a couple of extra bases after that base on balls. He stole second and went to third on a wild pitch before scoring on a two-out bloop single by David Segui to left that fell just out of reach of a charging Kirk Gibson.
The Orioles threatened again in the fifth after Mike Devereaux drove a one-out triple to right, but Gordon struck out Cal Ripken and Sam Horn to get out of the inning.
Milacki finally gave up his first hit in the fifth when Danny Tartabull led off with a line drive to left, but Jim Eisenreich went for the first pitch and bounced into a double play to keep the Orioles starter fixed on the minimum number of batters. He also got a double play in the sixth to make it 18 hitters and 18 outs.
Oates had to love what he was seeing. Milacki threw a total of four pitches in the fifth and six in the sixth. He threw only 54 pitches through the first six innings, compared with 93 for Gordon.
"That's how he pitched in the minor leagues, and that's how he pitched in 1989," Oates said.
Milacki won 14 games in 1989, his rookie season, but struggled to a 5-8 record and a 4.46 ERA last year. A sore shoulder contributed to his poor performance and may have contributed to an apparent lack of confidence in his fastball.
That confidence appeared to be restored last night, which could be good news for the beleaguered Orioles starting rotation.
"This has got to be a boost for him and for our whole ballclub," Oates said. "This team [the Royals] was smoking the ball on its last road trip. Then we get beat, 3-2, on Thursday and beat them, 1-0. We shut them down."