The Orioles found a short-term solution for their recent pitching problems last night. They buried them under a pile of runs and beat the New York Yankees, 10-7, in the opener of a four-game series at Camden Yards.
Right-hander Bob Milacki again had trouble in the early innings, but he was bailed out of a tough loss with a barrage of home runs that moved the Orioles back into first place in the American League East. The Orioles (39-26) lead the Toronto Blue Jays (40-27) by three percentage points (.600 to .597). The Blue Jays lost to the Royals, 11-4, last night in Kansas City, Mo.
Mike Devereaux hit his second grand slam of the season, and Cal Ripken and Randy Milligan belted bases-empty shots in the club's seventh double-digit offensive performance of the year. Right fielder David Segui also contributed a big blow, breaking a 6-6 tie with a two-out, bases-loaded single in the fourth.
Milacki could not survive long enough to get the victory, but middle reliever Alan Mills came on to work three solid innings for his fourth win in five decisions. Struggling Mike Flanagan also contributed to a solid relief effort and stopper Gregg Olson pitched the final 1 1/3 innings to record his 19th save.
"Alan continues to do a good job," manager Johnny Oates said, (( "but the thing I was most excited about was that one-third of an inning that Mike Flanagan pitched. He's the only left-hander we have out there, and we need him to pitch well for us."
It didn't figure to be a pitching duel. Milacki was coming off a frightful two-inning performance against Detroit in last Saturday's 15-1 loss at Tiger Stadium. He came into the game with the highest ERA (5.23) in the Orioles rotation, but it was only slightly higher than that of Yankees starter Jeff Johnson (5.16), who had won just once in his first five starts.
Milacki needed a strong outing to get back on track, but it wasn't to be. He could be forgiven for the unearned run that scored when Devereaux dropped a fly ball in the top of the first inning, but a third-inning error by Leo Gomez was not enough to explain away a five-run Yankees bat-around.
"I thought I had pretty good stuff tonight," said Milacki, who gave up six runs (four earned) on seven hits over 4 1/3 innings. "That third inning snowballed on me. I should be able to pitch out of a mess like that without it turning into a big inning."
Oates was willing to let Milacki off the hook. The error by Devereaux could have been the third out of the first inning. The error by Gomez could have been an inning-ending double play.
"I talked to Bobby about that," Oates said. "We've taken great pride in our defense. You could make a highlight film out of the plays that Devereaux and [Steve] Finley and Joe Orsulak and Brady Anderson and Phil Bradley have made over the years. If Mike catches that ball and we turn the double play, it might be an 8-0 ballgame.
"I told him, you've got to know if we get a few defensive plays, you pitch five shutout innings tonight."
Devereaux had redeemed himself for the way he misplayed the first-inning fly by Don Mattingly. He came back in the second inning to make Johnson pay dearly for a lapse of control that loaded the bases with two out, driving a ball into the left-field seats for his second grand slam of the year.
Johnson could not exactly curse the fates. He walked three batters and hit another before Devereaux came to the plate, but a double-play ball by Segui kept the Orioles off the board until Devereaux came through with his 10th home run.
"The first time I got to the plate, I thought about hitting a home run," Devereaux said. "After that, it didn't cross my mind. The second time up, I was just looking for a good pitch to hit and he [Johnson] gave it to me.
"I felt bad [about the first-inning error]. Not only did I miss it, but then I couldn't pick it up. I had to get it out of my mind. There were still eight innings to play."
The pendulum seemed to be swinging back to the Orioles after four losses in their previous five games, but that three-run lead didn't last for three outs.
Milacki got the first out of the third before things got out of hand. Shortstop Andy Stankiewicz tripled up the alley in left-center, and Mel Hall reached first after Milacki fielded a come-backer and tried to catch Stankiewicz off third. His throw was on target but not on time, leaving runners at first and third.
The play was ill-advised, as Milacki admitted afterward. He had a three-run lead. He should have gone for the sure out at first base. "You only do that if it's a sure thing," Milacki said.
Roberto Kelly followed with a sharp grounder to third -- a seeming double-play ball -- but Gomez was unable to pick it up. Instead, it went right through his legs for an error and brought home a run. Mattingly followed with an RBI single to make it a one-run game, and Danny Tartabull sliced a towering fly ball off the right-field foul pole to vault the Yankees into the lead.
The Yankees brought 10 batters to the plate in the third, but Milacki stayed out there. His persistence would be rewarded when the Orioles rallied in the bottom of the inning to tie the score and knock out Johnson.
Gomez and Chris Hoiles delivered back-to-back singles with one out to put Johnson on the ropes again. He got Segui on a long fly for the second out, but Gomez moved to third on the play and scored when Mike Gallego could not pick up a soft bouncer by Bill Ripken and was charged with an error.
Brady Anderson's game-tying single chased Johnson, who needed 78 pitches to get through 2 2/3 innings. He gave up six runs (four earned) on seven hits and three walks.
Control problems also hampered reliever Shawn Hillegas, who got the first two outs of the fourth inning before walking the bases loaded and giving up a two-run single to Segui. It would turn out to be the decisive hit of the game.