The Texas Rangers found out firsthand that the Orioles' home-field advantage at Camden Yards is more than just a theoretical concept. Left fielder Kevin Reimer reached out and touched it last night.
Catcher Chris Hoiles hit a grand slam in the seventh inning to carry the Orioles to an 8-5 victory before 36,511, but a fan reaching for the ball from the left-field stands may have prevented Reimer from making a leaping catch.
That's what Reimer and Rangers manager Bobby Valentine argued after Hoiles' seventh home run of the season assured the Orioles of their sixth straight victory and another slice of new stadium history. Their 10-1 start is the best by a club in the first year at a new ballpark.
The club also is off to its best 25-game start (17-8) since 1970, a year in which the Orioles won 108 games and the world championship. It might be too early for any comparisons, but it is not too early to tell that something very exciting is taking place.
Hoiles' grand slam off Todd Burns was the third by an Oriole at the Yards this year. Randy Milligan hit the first on April 14 and Mike Devereaux hit one Friday night. The latest gave middle reliever Alan Mills room to breathe on the way to his second victory of the year, and became more decisive when the Rangers scored two runs off Mike Flanagan in the ninth.
"I thought it was in my glove," said Reimer afterward. "I thought I had it and then somebody clobbered the back of my glove and the shock knocked it right out."
The video replay showed that Reimer did touch the ball, but it did not appear to be in his glove when he made contact with the fan. The ball bounded back onto the field, prompting Valentine to argue that Reimer had brought it back into play, but the umpires apparently were not convinced.
Pinch hitter Tim Hulett had broken a 3-3 tie with a sharp single to left earlier in the seventh inning, rewarding Mills for an impressive five-inning performance in which he gave up just two hits. He held the game together after another rocky start by right-hander Bob Milacki, then Hulett and Hoiles broke it open.
The home run tied Hoiles with former Oriole Mickey Tettleton for the most by a catcher in either league. He also increased his RBI total to 17, which put him right on the fringe of the league rankings.
"Right now, everybody is doing their jobs," Hoiles said. "The pitchers are pitching well. We're getting the timely hitting. We're on a roll right now, and I'm just happy to be a part of it. This is better than I ever expected. My goal was to help the team by playing on a regular basis and contribute as much as I could, but this is better than I ever imagined."
The Orioles may be off to one of their best starts, but it has been no picnic for Milacki, who struggled in the early innings for the fifth time in his first six starts of 1992.
The numbers reflect his inability to get comfortable on the mound. He has been scored upon in the first inning three of six times. He has given up two runs or more in the first three innings in all but one start. The deepest he has gotten into a game without giving up a run is the fourth inning -- in his victory over the Detroit Tigers on April 19. In his three starts since then, he has worked 9 2/3 innings and allowed 11 earned runs, 20 hits and seven walks.
Last night, he allowed four of the first five batters he faced to reach base and was very fortunate to get away with just one run on the board. Juan Gonzales put the Rangers on top with a run-scoring single, but Milacki worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out situation to keep the game from getting out of hand in a hurry.
The Rangers added a run in the second on a two-out, RBI single by Rafael Palmeiro, and Milacki went on to allow 10 base runners in three-plus innings before giving way to Mills.
"I was just missing a little bit here and there," Milacki said. "I got myself in trouble in the first inning, but I made some pitches when I had to. If I throw strikes the past two games, I get two wins, but it's just fortunate that we won both games anyway."
Manager Johnny Oates complained in Minnesota last week that Milacki was not throwing enough strikes early in the count, and there apparently was no significant improvement last night. Milacki faced 19 batters and threw 82 pitches, an average of about 4 1/2 per batter.
Pitching coach Dick Bosman disputes the notion that Milacki is trying to be too fine with his pitches. He also dismisses the possibility that the 27-year-old right-hander is pressing to match the solid performance of the rest of the Orioles rotation.
"He's confident," Bosman said before the game. "We all go through periods when you think about your mechanics instead of just throwing the ball. It's just a matter of mound presence. He just needs to be out there."
Bosman said there is nothing mechanically wrong with Milacki's delivery and nothing wrong with his arm.