DETROIT -- The Orioles were getting comfortable in the cozy confines of Tiger Stadium, but they were reminded last night that it can be a dangerous place for a struggling pitcher.
Right-hander Bob Milacki wasn't struggling when he got there, but he gave up two home runs in the first inning and got bounced in the third on the way to a 15-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Reliever Mike Flanagan had it even rougher, giving up eight runs in an ugly eighth inning that turned it into one of the most lopsided defeats in Orioles history.
Tigers right fielder Rob Deer drove in five runs with home runs in his first two at-bats and Detroit starter Mark Leiter turned in his best performance of the year, as the Tigers broke a four-game losing streak and put themselves into position to split the four-game series that concludes today.
There were four Detroit homers in all. Cecil Fielder started the barrage with a two-run shot in the first inning, and Mickey Tettleton added a three-run blast in the eighth.
The Orioles have not been beaten more thoroughly since Sept. 14, 1987, when they fell victim to a record 10 home runs in an 18-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Exhibition Stadium.
This loss ended a modest three-game winning streak and cost the Orioles a chance to take a one-game lead over the Blue Jays, but they remained percentage points ahead of Toronto in the American League East.
"It's just one game," manager Johnny Oates said. "It just counts as one, so we've got to forget about it and get back out there tomorrow."
Leiter, a former Orioles minor-leaguer, went the distance and scattered nine hits on the way to his fifth victory. His name may not be a household word, but he's the answer to an Orioles trivia question. He was the last opposing pitcher to lose at Memorial Stadium. Last night, he became the first Tigers pitcher of record FTC not to lose to the Orioles this year.
The Tigers were winless in their first six games against the Orioles, so they were due to vent some frustration on someone. Pitching has been a problem all season, but there still is plenty of punch in their offensive lineup, as Milacki found out in the first inning.
He got two quick outs, but a single by shortstop Travis Fryman touched off an explosion at the heart of a Detroit lineup that had produced just eight runs in the Tigers' previous four games.
Fielder hammered a first-pitch fastball into the second deck in left field for his 12th home run. Milacki walked Tettleton, then gave up the first home run to Deer, another upper-deck blast.
"I thought I had good stuff going out there," Milacki said. "I just made one bad pitch to Fielder and after that I had trouble throwing my changeup for strikes. All I've got to do is throw a couple of good pitches to Mickey and it might be a different story."
Milacki, who was coming off a solid performance against the Boston Red Sox five days earlier, was gone before there was an out in the third inning. He walked Fielder and Tettleton and was down 0-1 on the count to Deer when Oates had seen enough. Alan Mills inherited the count and served up the second Deer homer, a shot into the second deck in right-center.
It was the third homer of the series for Deer, who is baseball's premier all-or-nothing hitter. He ranks second in the major leagues with 18 homers, but he has only 16 singles and has 69 strikeouts. He has three multi-homer games, but only one game in which he has as many as two singles.
"We just haven't made good pitches to him," Oates said. "You know that he can be pitched. He has some holes, but we have not been able to exploit them."
Deer had three more chances to add a third home run, but he lined out to short in his second at-bat against Mills, struck out swinging against Todd Frohwirth in the seventh and doubled off Flanagan in the eighth.
Milacki was charged with six runs over two-plus innings -- and it could have been worse. He got out of a bases-loaded situation in the second on a double-play grounder by Fryman.
"They have a lot of power," Milacki said, "but if you make your
pitches and stay ahead of them, you can get them out. If you let them hit what they are looking for, they can be devastating, like they were tonight."
The game was his worst performance of the year, surpassing an April outing against the New York Yankees in which he gave up four runs on six hits in 1 2/3 innings.