MINNEAPOLIS -- Randy Milligan's head was clear yesterday, which turned out to be unfortunate for the Minnesota Twins. It took him a few at-bats to get comfortable, but he settled in just in time to deliver the big hit in one of the biggest Orioles victories of the young season.
Exactly one week after he was knocked out in a collision with second baseman Bill Ripken, Milligan returned to the starting lineup and slapped a two-out RBI single in the ninth inning to send the Orioles home with a hard-fought, 5-4 win.
It was an important victory for a number of reasons. It brought the Orioles back to Baltimore on a roll. They won six of nine on the first extended road trip of the season. For another, it capped their winningest April (13-8) since 1979, which was not a bad year.
"It was a very positive road trip," said Milligan, whose recollection of some of it is a little cloudy. "I remember telling Rick Sutcliffe before the trip that this was going to be key, because we never play well here, we've had trouble lately in New York and Kansas City hasn't been too pleasant. I told him, 'If we can get home on a winning note, maybe we can do some things this year.' "
Milligan struck out in two of his first three at-bats, and said he was beginning to wonder if he had come back too soon. But he singled in the seventh and came up with runners at first and second with two out in the ninth.
Twins manager Tom Kelly had stopper Rick Aguilera warm in the bullpen, but he had left-hander Gary Wayne hand an intentional walk to Cal Ripken, then raised some eyebrows by allowing Wayne to face the right-handed Milligan.
There was some method to his managing. Kelly knew Milligan had not played since he was knocked unconscious in Kansas City. He also knew that the Orioles were heavy with left-handed pinch hitters and that Milligan had a couple of very big hits off Aguilera last year.
"I was kind of surprised they did that," Milligan said, "but Tom Kelly probably figured we could come in with Sam Horn, and I've had some success [off Aguilera]. I had a double to break their 15-game winning streak last year and I also had a home run off him."
Milligan's single made a winner of right-hander Storm Davis (1-1), who relieved Bob Milacki and pitched three perfect innings to get his first Orioles win since 1986. But the game was in doubt until pinch runner Shane Mack ran the Twins out of an opportunity to score the tying run in the bottom of the ninth.
Orioles closer Gregg Olson gave up a one-out single to pinch hitter Brian Harper. Mack took Harper's place on first and his way into scoring position with two out. Randy Bush could have tied the game with a grounder through the infield, but Mack ill-advisedly broke for third when an Olson curveball skipped away from catcher Chris Hoiles.
The ball didn't roll far. Hoiles was on it in a flash and threw out Mack to end the game, giving Olson his third save of the year.
"I saw the ball go by the catcher," Mack said. "Somebody said that it hit the umpire's leg. I thought it went behind him. It was a bad base-running move. You never make the third out at third base."
Kelly couldn't have agreed more.
"You don't like to get beat, but it leaves a real sour-type feeling when you give a game away like we did," Kelly said.
The game was the Orioles' for the taking from the start. Twins starter John Smiley, a 20-game winner in the National League last season, gave up three runs on six hits in four-plus innings and was fortunate to be left out of the decision. He allowed 11 base runners and would have been on the wrong end of a lopsided defeat if center fielder Kirby Puckett had not run down a couple of warning-track shots in the early innings.
Smiley (0-2) still is looking for his first victory since coming to the Twins this spring for Arundel High graduate Denny Neagle and a promising minor-league prospect. Despite his rocky performance, three runs in four innings actually lowered his ERA -- to 6.84. The biggest blow for the Orioles was a 445-foot home run by Hoiles in the second inning.
Milacki also struggled. He gave up seven hits and walked three in five innings, prompting a lecture from his manager on the mound.
"I told him to throw more strikes," Oates said. "I told him, 'Your stuff is good enough. You've got four good pitches. But you've got to have outstanding stuff to get people out when you're down 2-0 and 3-0 in the count.' I told him to see how far they can hit the ball. I can take it."
Milacki did that in the fifth inning, giving up a tie-breaking home run to Kent Hrbek that traveled 417 feet to straightaway center. Hrbek has a habit of hammering the Orioles. He delivered a two-run double to put the Twins on top in the first and finished the three-game series with five hits and four RBI.