It has been a season of positive emergence among the Orioles' playing personnel.
Brady Anderson has developed into a potential American League All-Star. Mike Mussina has become firmly established as one of the top young pitchers in baseball. Mike Devereaux is hitting grand slams and making dazzling catches. Chris Hoiles has 14 home runs.
But no one has filled a vacancy better than relief pitcher Alan Mills, whose work has compensated for the loss of injured Mark )) Williamson and the slumps of other bullpen members.
"We always knew he had a good arm. But you don't make a trade expecting miracles," manager Johnny Oates said. "He's the type of guy you hope works out, and he has."
Mills never quite made it to the top for the Yankees despite several big-league trials, and came to Baltimore this spring in a deal for minor leaguers Francisco de la Rosa and (later) Mark Carper.
"I'm just happy to be here," he said. "I can't really tell you why I'm doing well. I'm working ahead in the count and that makes it a lot easier to pitch than being behind all the time." Mills has been the toughest of all Orioles pitchers to hit, allowing a .167 opposing batting average in 34 innings. He has the second-lowest ERA (1.32) on the staff to Gregg Olson's 1.16, and his ability to replace a staggered starter and hold down the other team has been exemplary.
At Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Mills had not allowed a run in 16 2/3 innings before the Yankees nicked him for one Friday night on Don Mattingly's RBI single.
He has given up five extra-base hits and has allowed more than two hits in an inning just three times.
The way he is pitching, a natural move would be to the starting rotation, but Oates said that can wait.
"For right now, there is no rush to do that," he said. "He's doing very well where he is, and we don't want to change it."
But if any starter falters, Mills might get a shot.
His problem has been lack of control during a career that began in the California organization. He averaged almost five walks a game in his minor-league career.
"Now, he's throwing strikes and coming after people. It looks like the difference," Oates said.
Mills beat the Yankees with three strong innings in relief of Bob Milacki in the series opener Friday. It was his second appearance and first victory over his former team.
"I don't have anything personal against the Yankees," he said. "You try to do well against every team, including the Yankees."
With his excellent numbers at Oriole Park, Mills naturally relishes pitching here.
"I love pitching here," he said. "It's great going in front of a capacity crowd every night."
But he doesn't have any magic explanations for his progress, no tricky new pitches, no change of scenery.
"My job is to try to keep the score right where it is when I get in," he said. "I'm just going to try to keep it going the way it has. Whatever happens, happens from there."