If the numbers don't lie, the best is still ahead for the Orioles' Bob Milacki.
The numbers say that in a major-league career that began late in 1988, Milacki has a 13-4 record after Aug. 1. His record before Aug. 1 is 15-22, his ERA a bloated 4.36, almost two runs above his post-Aug. 1 allowance.
As he listened to the numbers after he was branded with the Orioles' 6-4 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers last night before 27,079 at Memorial Stadium, Milacki smiled ruefully.
"Maybe I finally get it together the last part of the season and finish up good," the 6-foot-4 righthander said. "I thought I had good stuff this time. But it wasn't good enough."
In his work after Aug. 1 this season, Milacki is 1-1, the win coming last Saturday at Chicago. He remains the Orioles' leading winner this season at 7-6. In fact, his 26 wins over the last three years, meager as that sounds, are unmatched on the club.
"Bobby threw decent," said manager John Oates. "Take away [Bill] Spiers' [RBI] single and there's the ballgame right there on three pitches -- a curveball, slider and changeup."
Darryl Hamilton hit the curve for a two-run homer, his first in 13 months. Greg Vaughn hit the slider 407 feet for his 19th this year and Paul Molitor clobbered the changeup for his 11th.
"All three home runs on off-speed pitches," Milacki said. "It was one of those days when they hit everything.
"To Hamilton, I was trying to throw the curve in the dirt because he's a good low ball hitter, but I got it up a bit. Vaughn hit a slider that was down the middle and Molitor was right on that changeup like he knew it was coming. After that, I stayed with fastballs and had success."
That was after Molitor connected to lead off the fifth inning. By then, however, it was 5-1, Milwaukee, and the Orioles were headed toward their fourth loss in their last five games.
They have opened this 12-game homestand by dropping three out of four to the Brewers. The Chicago White Sox are next, with Orioles rookie Mike Mussina making his first Memorial Stadium appearance in a confrontation with 43-year-old knuckleballer Charlie Hough.
Milacki pitched seven innings -- the eighth time in his last nine starts he has worked six or more -- and allowed eight hits and five runs, walking none. Oates has seen jobs a lot shabbier than that in recent weeks.
"Guys usually have six or seven bad pitches, but they're not always crucial and certainly aren't always hit out," Oates said. "This time Milacki's were."
A two-run homer by Sam Horn in the eighth -- following Cal Ripken's 23rd in the sixth -- brought the Orioles within a run at 5-4. It was Horn's second hard hit of the night -- he also stung a double -- and may have signaled the end of a mini-slump.
Coming in, he was dragging a .111 bat in his last 10 games and was .164 since the All-Star break. In his 11 games before the break, he hit .394.
"Perseverance, that's all it is," Horn said. "I've kept working hard to come out of it. I've been taking extra batting practice."
Like other players, Horn does that under the supervision of batting coach Tom McCraw in a cage under the rightfield stands. McCraw works with the hitters there before regular pre-game practice.
"It's a matter of changing the work ethic with some of these guys," McCraw said. "I nailed Sam the other day when he didn't show up early. They have to understand that it's important. When they see results, like Sam is now, they know they've succeeded."
Horn's homer, though only his second in his last 20 games, was No. 16. Of his 56 hits, 30 have been for extra bases.
L "Sam had been struggling lately," Oates said. "He hit well."
In the end, it was another loss at home. The Orioles have lost five of their last six at the stadium and 10 of their last 14.
They have won only one-third of their home games -- 17 of 51 -- and are on a pace to capture a meager 27. The club record for fewest is 30 in 1955.