The final Memorial Stadium series between the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees means very little in the collective sense. The teams involved are playing for pride at this point in the season, and there is precious little of that to go around.
But this is a very important time for pitcher Bob Milacki and part-time designated hitter Sam Horn, both of whom played important roles in the Orioles' 8-0 victory in the opener last night.
Milacki threw a five-hit shutout -- his sixth solid performance in a -- row -- to further establish himself as the most consistent pitcher in the starting rotation.
Horn hit his third home run in four games to remind everyone that he's still around and wants to be back next year. He has 19 homers in 271 at-bats, but could be the odd man out if Glenn Davis re-signs with the club.
It is the season for such subplots. Milacki's situation is less urgent. He'll almost certainly be back in the rotation next year, but he needs to go out on a roll to re-establish himself as a quality starter after a difficult 1990 season and a rocky start this year.
"I think it's really important to finish strong," Milacki said. "I want to go as far as I can go and shoot for 200 innings, not just to show them I can do it, but to prove it to myself.
"I just want to hear 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' every time out. I want to be around for the seventh-inning stretch. That means I'm doing my job."
Horn doesn't figure to get a lot of playing time the rest of the way, but he continues to improve on a tremendous part-time performance. He ranks second on the club in home runs and third with 51 RBI despite getting fewer than half the at-bats of team leader Cal Ripken. He also ranks second in the American League in home run ratio (to home run leader Cecil Fielder) with one every 14.3 at-bats.
"Everything I do right now is important," Horn said, "because I want to be back. I like it here and I want to be here, especially going into a new stadium."
Milacki was making his first start of the year against the Yankees, but he had dominated them in his six previous starts, going 4-0 with a 2.68 ERA overall and 2-0 with a 1.74 ERA at Memorial Stadium.
Yankees starter Scott Sanderson has had significantly less success against the Orioles (1-2, 5.23 ERA), and he was flirting with trouble from the second inning until he was removed from the game.
The Orioles had the leadoff man on base in the second, third and fourth, but hit into a pair of double plays and did not advance a runner past second until they broke through with four runs in the fifth. The Yankees had the leadoff man on base twice in the first four innings, but catcher Bob Melvin defused the situation both times, gunning down Roberto Kelly attempting to steal in the second and Steve Sax doing the same in the fourth.
"That was a big part of the game," Milacki said. "Bob did a great job. He took them out of a couple chances for a big inning."
Rookie Chito Martinez was the first to take a serious swipe at Sanderson, driving his 11th home run of the year over the right-center-field fence with a man aboard in the fifth to give the Orioles the lead.
Horn had opened the inning with a long single that one-hopped the right-field wall. Martinez followed with a high fly ball that sailed into the Yankees bullpen and broke him out of a 4-for-33 slump.
The inning didn't end there. Melvin singled with one out and Yankees third baseman Pat Kelly kept the inning alive when he fielded a two-out chopper by Luis Mercedes and threw wide of second base to blow a routine force play. It was the first of three throwing errors by the Yankees rookie, and it would be costly. Brady Anderson poked a bloop double past a diving Hensley Muelens and both runners scored.
Anderson was batting .191 when the Orioles optioned him to the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings on Aug. 21, but he has been the club's most dangerous on-base threat since he returned on Sept. 1. He is 8-for-18 with four walks (.545 on-base percentage) in the six games he has played since the brief trip to the minor leagues.
The way Milacki has been pitching, four runs would have been more than enough. He has been the most consistent pitcher in the Orioles rotation, even if his numbers -- 9-8, 3.75 ERA -- aren't particularly impressive by most standards of comparison.
But Kelly made his second error to lead off the sixth and Horn made reliever Dave Eiland pay for it with a mammoth shot that soared over the foul pole in right and landed about two-thirds of the way up the bleachers.
Things just kept getting worse. Martinez barely missed a second home run when he sliced a ball off the top of the fence in the left-field corner and Kelly made his third throwing error on a grounder by Melvin. Mercedes delivered the bill for that one with a two-run double to right that turned the game into a bona fide blowout.