CLEVELAND -- It was a slump waiting to happen, and Randy Milligan wanted no part of it.
The Orioles had blown a three-run lead for the second game in a row. They had cost pitcher Rick Sutcliffe a chance to become the winningest pitcher in the American League. They were poised to lose their third straight game and return to a clubhouse that was already too quiet.
It was time for an emotional rescue.
Milligan got there just in time, hammering a leadoff home run in the ninth inning to give the club a 6-5 victory over the Cleveland Indians in the opener of a three-game series at Cleveland Stadium.
"We definitely needed the win," said Milligan, who jumped on a pitch from Indians reliever Dennis Cook and drove it over the right center field fence for his sixth home run of the year. "Sunday was a tough one to swallow and we were playing the same type of game today. You can get into those ruts where it seems like the same things happen to you every night."
The road trip was about to go sour. That much was apparent when the Tribe rallied from a 5-2 deficit to deny Sutcliffe -- a former Indian -- a chance to become the league's first 10-game winner. The Orioles had won the first two games of the trip in Detroit, only to take a 15-1 troucing on Saturday and suffer a 7-4 come-from-ahead loss on Sunday.
"Sunday's game took a lot out of us," Milligan said, "because usually when we have a three-run lead, we lock it away. You don't want to lose two that way. That could really put you in a rut."
Relief stopper Gregg Olson also took part in the rescue operation. He came on in the bottom of the ninth to shut down the persistent Indians offense and record his 18th save. If only the rest of the bullpen had been so dependable.
Sutcliffe was returning to the mound at Cleveland Stadium for the first time since June 6, 1984 and the Orioles were quick to pave his way.
Brady Anderson drew a leadoff walk from Indians starter Denis Boucher to open the game and Mike Devereaux followed with a line drive over the 375 sign in left for his ninth home run of the year.
Boucher, making his first career appearance against Baltimore, got a look at most of the starting lineup in the first inning, thanks in part to the 17th error. Glenn Davis gave him a scare with a mammoth shot into the upper deck that was a few feet foul and Leo Gomez singled, but the Orioles would settle for Devereaux's two-run shot.
It would not be enough to get comfortable on. Sutcliffe retired the side in order in the bottom of the first, but allowed the first two batters to hit safely in each of the next three innings. He was very fortunate to enter the fifth with the game tied, 2-2. For that matter, he was very fortunate to enter the fifth inning at all.
The Indians scored once in the second, getting singles from Albert Belle and Paul Sorrento before Brooke Jacoby brought home the run with a sacrifice fly. They scored the same way in the third, tying the score on a leadoff single by Sandy Alomar, a double by Kenny Lofton and a sacrifice fly by Thomas Howard.
The game was there for the taking in the bottom of the fourth, but the Tribe could not take advantage of a bases-loaded, no-out situation that had Sutcliffe very much on the ropes. He surrendered line drive singles to Glenallen Hill and Jacoby and found himself knee-deep in trouble when Lewis pushed a perfect bunt past the mound to load the bases.
Alomar appeared to be in perfect position to put the Indians on top when Sutcliffe fell behind 2-1 on the count, but he couldn't check his swing on a curveball that was well out of the strike zone. Sutcliffe caught him looking with a fastball on the inside part of the plate for the first out.
Lofton also got ahead on the count, but he bounced sharply to first baseman Randy Milligan, who relayed the ball back to the plate for a force play. Howard recorded the final out of the inning on another ground ball to first.
Waste not, want not. The Orioles sent eight batters to the plate in the top of the fifth and scored three times to knock Boucher out of the game.
Devereaux started that rally with a sharp double down the left field line and Cal Ripken followed with an RBI single to right. Boucher continued to struggle, walking Randy Milligan before Glenn Davis singled to deliver only his second RBI in the past three weeks. The Indians left-hander finally left the game after Chris Hoiles sliced a two-out single to right, but Joe Orsulak greeted reliever Dennis Cook with an RBI single for the third run of the inning.
Sutcliffe could not be considered a lock to stay long enough to get the decision. He brought the potential tying run to the plate in the bottom of the fifth before again working out of trouble. He allowed a total of 11 baserunners over a span of just four innings and was still around to tell about it.
'Who was that, Rick Houdini," said Oates. "That's a lot of %J baserunners to only give up two runs before he left."