Mills holds the fort, allowing Orioles to reload, retake Tigers

April 21, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

It's not quite the same as knowing where you were when, say, your first child was born, but every big leaguer knows where he was when he got the call to come up from the minors.

Alan Mills was sitting with his Rochester Red Wings teammates last Friday, checking out an American Hockey League game at War Memorial Auditorium between the hometown Americans and the Hershey Bears, when he got word that he was heading up from Triple-A.

"It's kind of funny that they found me at a hockey game," the soft-spoken Mills said last night, following the Orioles' 12-4 pasting of the Detroit Tigers at Oriole Park.

The situation Mills walked into was hardly funny, but the 25-year-old righthander became the beneficiary of the laugher the game became, earning his third major-league win overall and his first since beating Milwaukee last season while a member of the New York Yankees.

Mills entered the game with the Orioles trailing 4-0, after starter Ben McDonald had been rocked for three consecutive homers and four runs in the Detroit third. Rob Deer was standing on second after a run-scoring double.

Mills struck out Travis Fryman, then held the Tigers scoreless and hitless, striking out four in 3 1/3 innings to earn the victory.

Afterward, Mills claimed not to have been nervous, but also wouldn't give himself much credit for the effort, citing the three walks and the wild pitch he gave up, rather than the fact that Lou Whitaker's sixth-inning drive to the centerfield wall that was hauled in by Mike Devereaux was the only ball hit out of the infield.

"To tell you the truth, I don't think I threw that well," said Mills. "You can't go out there and give up free passes. But we won. I'll take it. I was just trying to keep the score the way it was."

That's the precise task of the long reliever, namely, to keep the ballclub in the game long enough for the hitters to muster a rally.

The Orioles did just that, scoring five runs in the fourth to take the lead and seven runs in the fifth to get their first four-game sweep over Detroit at home since 1977.

But the runs might have gone to waste without Mills and Todd Frohwirth, who earned a save by pitching one-hit ball over the last three innings.

"When you get down three or four runs early, you need someone to come in and shut them down," said manager Johnny Oates. "You get guys like Sammy Stewart who do that, and that helps you win a pennant."

Mills, who came to the Orioles in February in a minor-league deal with the Yankees, may not yet be as effective as Stewart was during his seven-year stint here as long reliever. But he pitched well enough during spring training to earn a call-up when an inflamed elbow forced Mark Williamson on to the disabled list.

Oates said earlier that although there were other pitchers at Rochester with major-league experience, namely lefthander Dennis Rasmussen, Mills was the only pitcher the club considered calling up.

Mills languished in the New York organization, developing a reputation as a hard thrower, but one who had trouble finding the plate. Indeed, in two previous call-ups, both with the Yankees, he walked 41 batters and struck out 35 in 58 innings.

But last night, he kept his pitches away from what McDonald called the Tigers hitters "happy zone," mainly up and over the plate where they could extend their arms and send the ball skyward.

"He kept the ball low. When he was missing, it was down, which is better than up," said pitching coach Dick Bosman.

"He's got great stuff," said Frohwirth, who saw his first action in a week. "I'm sitting in the bullpen knowing that he's going to do it."

Frohwirth and Mills got their chance to do it because McDonald couldn't.

The lanky righthander, who shut out Cleveland on two hits and nine strikeouts, was ineffective and wild, giving up three consecutive home runs to Alan Trammell, Cecil Fielder and Mickey Tettleton and walking three in 2 2/3 innings.

"If I had it to do over again, I would have been more aggressive. I tried to hit the corners and that's not my ballgame," said McDonald, who lost 8 pounds battling stomach ailments all weekend, but reported himself to Oates and Bosman as physically fine before the game.

The home runs by Trammell and Fielder were fairly mundane, as homers go, landing in the leftfield stands, where all but one previous Oriole Park homer has gone.

But the blast from Tettleton, his second in as many games, was a thing of majesty that, like his homer on Sunday, cleared the 25-foot high out-of-town scoreboard in right.

This shot, however, came to earth 406 feet from home plate, 26 feet away from the warehouse at Camden Yards.

"That was the worst pitch of the three," said McDonald. "That was in his happy zone. He did what you normally do with a pitch like that."

Thankfully for the Orioles pitching staff, there were the Orioles hitters, who teed off on longtime nemesis Eric King, possessor of a 7-1 lifetime record against Baltimore previously.

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