DETROIT -- Starter Ben McDonald couldn't get out of the fifth inning and reliever Mike Flanagan couldn't get through the seventh last night, but the Orioles can do nothing wrong enough to lose to the struggling Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers fought back from four runs down to push the Orioles bullpen to the limit, but relief stopper Gregg Olson arrived just in time to nail down a 7-5 victory and give his team its ninth victory in 12 games.
McDonald gave up two towering home runs and lasted just 4 2/3 innings, allowing rookie Alan Mills to steal the decision with a perfect 1 1/3 innings of middle relief. Flanagan and Todd Frohwirth were not so effective, but Olson came on with two out in the eighth to record his 17th save.
"We got away with it tonight," manager Johnny Oates said. "We got out fast, but that ballclub kept coming back. It felt like we were in hot water in every inning."
Pity the Tigers, who are 0-5 against the Orioles this year. Their chances don't figure to improve when right-hander Mike Mussina
(7-1) takes on slumping Scott Aldred (2-5) tonight in the second game of the four-game series at Tiger Stadium.
Detroit starter Bill Gullickson missed the Orioles when the Tigers visited Camden Yards for a four-game series in April, but he found out last night what the rest of the Tigers rotation already knew. This Orioles lineup is not to be taken lightly.
He had no reason to suspect that before. He came into the 1991 season with a 3-0 lifetime record against Baltimore and entered last night's game with seven victories in his previous eight starts. If anybody in the Tigers rotation was going to throw the Orioles for a loss, it figured to be Gullickson.
But the Orioles jumped all over him, taking the lead on an RBI single by Randy Milligan and a 4-0 advantage with a three-run homer by Joe Orsulak. It was Orsulak's first home run, and came as he is trying to return to a regular outfield role.
It has been a difficult year for Orsulak. He opened the season in right field and got most of the playing time for the first six weeks. He slipped into the background after his batting average hung below .220 for most of April and three weeks into May, but has come back with a 6-for-15 run to raise his average to .241. The home run had to be a big lift.
"I would have taken anything," Orsulak said, "but I felt like it was a big lift for the team. We hadn't been scoring a lot of runs and our pitchers were doing it for us, so it was nice to get some runs early."
McDonald is no stranger to generous offensive support, even if he couldn't take advantage of it last night. The Orioles entered the game averaging 6.8 runs in his first 12 starts and quickly
handed him another big lead. He handed a run back in a hurry, giving up a home run to Travis Fryman in the bottom of the first, but settled down to work into the fifth before the Tigers rallied.
He gave up three runs on six hits before giving way to Mills, who needed only to pitch effectively to earn his third victory of the year.
"Right now, I'm making mistakes and I'm paying for them," said McDonald, who has won only one of his past four starts, "but those things come and go. It was just a tough night all around. I didn't feel comfortable from the beginning, but you can't complain about it. You've got to just go out and pitch."
The Orioles had a chance to break the game open in the third when Sam Horn delivered a leadoff double and Gullickson walked two batters to load the bases with one out, but managed only one run, on a long sacrifice fly by Chris Hoiles.
Hoiles came up just a few feet short of his second grand slam of the season, sending Milt Cuyler hurtling into the center-field fence to grab the ball. Cuyler was shaken up on the play and left the game soon after with a sore right ankle.
There was no reason for any Orioles outfielders to crash the fence. When the Tigers went deep, they didn't leave any doubt about it. Fryman's first-inning shot landed halfway up the second deck in left, but it was nothing compared with the home run launched by Rob Deer in the fifth inning.
Deer's drive landed on the roof above left field, a drive measured at 481 feet. He came within a few feet of becoming only the second Tiger to clear the left-field roof. It has been done three times in all, but Cecil Fielder is the only Tiger to do it.
That was first inning in which McDonald really struggled, but he would not survive long enough to qualify for the decision. He gave up a no-out single to Scott Livingstone and a one-out walk to Tony Phillips to bring the potential tying run to the plate. Lou Whitaker flied out, but Fryman ended McDonald's evening with a run-scoring single.
"He just wasn't hitting his spots," Oates said. "He was throwing instead of pitching. I just thought I couldn't go any farther with him, because it didn't look like Gullickson was going to give us anything else."
Mills held things together until the seventh, when Flanagan came on to hit the leadoff batter and give up back-to-back singles to bring the potential go-ahead run to the plate. Frohwirth followed and gave up a run-scoring single, then needed help from Olson to get out of the eighth.
The Orioles added an insurance run in the ninth on an RBI single by Brady Anderson, but Olson kept it interesting by walking the leadoff man in the bottom of the inning. He would retire the next three batters in order, including strikeouts of Fielder and Mickey Tettleton to end it, but not before Tettleton gave his former teammates a scare with a moon shot into the upper deck that sailed just a few feet foul.