Milligan slips back into an old role

MIKE LITTWIN

April 14, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

BOSTON -- It's too weird, and it's a little too much to expect one person to take. But it's Randy Milligan's life, and he has to deal with it.

"He keeps getting slammed against the wall" is how his manager, Johnny Oates, puts it.

And so, the problem, of course, would be a health-care issue. But the patient, once again, is Glenn Davis. One year Davis comes down with a rare shoulder injury, and the next he's got a strained rib cage that has the Orioles' cages rattled plenty.

And each time, it means that Milligan, whose fortunes are inextricably tied to Davis' misfortunes, has to start over.

"It was shocking," Milligan said of Davis' second injury, although it was the same thing he had said after the first. "I mean, Glenn was there every day in spring training. He was healthy. He was strong. He was hitting the ball.

"I had no idea anything was wrong with him."

Nobody had any idea. Nobody seems to have any idea even today. You want to get an Orioles official upset, ask him about Davis. The day the injury was announced, the mild-mannered manager slammed his office door. Just yesterday, Roland Hemond, the mild-mannered general manager, said he didn't want to talk about the injury anymore.

There has been discussion that Davis would rejoin the team here, possibly by tomorrow. Now nobody is saying that.

Yes, it is shocking. And, for the Orioles, it's scary. Will they ever see the real Glenn Davis? Understand, this was their one big investment, and you know how the owner is about investments that require cash.

Meanwhile, the Orioles must rely on the Moose to save their bacon. He's back at first base. And after a slow start (actually, slow doesn't quite cover it; he was once 0-for-10 and came into the game yesterday 1-for-13), he's back swinging the bat.

Against the Red Sox, he broke out with three hits and was robbed of a fourth. His second double, producing his second RBI, was a two-out, game-winning shot in the eighth to rescue the Orioles when they seemed about to throw a game away. It was a breakout game for Milligan and for the Orioles, who scored eight runs after scoring a total of 10 in their first six games.

Milligan was in the middle of the lineup, batting fourth, playing first. You've seen it before.

As hard as the new injury must be for Davis, it has to be nearly as difficult for Milligan. But he's a survivor, meaning he has to be a realist. And the reality is that the job is his for now and that when Davis comes back, he's the first baseman and Milligan is the part-time DH.

"I know the job is Glenn's," Milligan said. "We need him. We need his bat. I'm not going to say the job should be mine. But the hard part is going from DH to first base, back to DH, back to first.

"I had X'd first base right out of mind. I was concentrating on splitting the DH role with Sam [Horn]. That's all I had on my mind. And the next thing I know, Glenn has gone down, and Johnny is telling me I'm the first baseman."

Milligan wouldn't have been so confused if there hadn't been last season. A year ago, when Frank Robinson was the manager, he had tried the Moose in left field, where survival was a real test. And then one day Robinson told him that Davis was hurt and that he'd be at first base for a few weeks. And the few weeks turned into months as Davis languished on the disabled list.

Could it happen again?

Milligan isn't thinking about that. He has enough to think about. During the off-season, all he could think about was whether the Orioles would trade him. Each day, he hoped they wouldn't. The strain didn't make his winter any fun.

"I thought Montreal was a done deal," he said. "I had my bags packed. I had the for-sale sign in my front yard. But then it never happened. Every day, I was going somewhere else."

As it turned out, nobody offered a deal that could sufficiently tempt the Orioles, who wanted very much to make one. For a while, they were pretty upset about their inability to move Milligan. Now, I'm guessing, they're happy they didn't.

The hard part for Oates was supposed to be making sure Milligan got enough at- bats. That hasn't been a problem so far.

"The last couple of days, there has been a lot of emotion in his play," Oates said of the Moose. "I know it's been hard on him. He plays all those years in Triple-A, then he makes it to the majors and he plays well and then every year, he's asking, 'Do I have a job? If I do, where?' That's hard on any player."

Then Oates talked about Milligan being slammed against walls. After which he said, "And he always bounces right back up."

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