The game-time temperature at Oriole Park yesterday read 89 degrees, allegedly the coolest day of the four-game series with the Minnesota Twins, but even in the shade of the home team's dugout, Orioles manager Johnny Oates said it felt a lot hotter.
"I was in the shade and it felt like 110. In the shade, it felt hot," said Oates. "It's tough to keep hammering out there like that. With the weather like this, it's a good day to get ahead."
In theory, Oates is right, because when the heat and humidity are as high as an elephant's eye, who wants to expend all their energy playing catch-up?
Alas, starter Bob Milacki's customary first-inning run giveaway put the Orioles in a hole that eventually buried them, 9-4, and cost them their third straight chance to gain ground on American League East-leading Toronto, which got two-hit by Oakland's Ron Darling in SkyDome.
Milacki gave up a first-inning three-spot to the Twins on a two-out, three-run homer to Pedro Munoz on a 2-2 pitch to left. He has surrendered first-inning runs in 11 of his last 14 starts.
After allowing five runs and five hits in 2 2/3 innings, Milacki was yanked to a torrent of boos from the 44,391 fans, the 25th consecutive sellout at Camden Yards.
What they saw yesterday from Milacki was not much different from what they've seen from him in the past month. During his last six starts he is 0-4 with an ERA of 11.86.
"[That was] pretty consistent," Oates said of how Milacki's work yesterday stacked up against his recent performances.
The 6-foot-4 right-hander, who led the staff in wins last year with 10, will turn 28 in 15 days, and it appears he will celebrate his birthday in the Orioles bullpen or in some other locale, possibly Triple-A Rochester.
Milacki, who left the clubhouse before reporters arrived yesterday, will almost certainly lose his spot in the starting rotation, perhaps this week.
Oates still must announce who will replace the "undecided" he has penciled in to face the Texas Rangers next Sunday night in the finale of a four-game, post-All-Star break series.
Arthur Rhodes, who dazzled Minnesota Thursday night for his first major-league win, seems to be the prime candidate for the fourth or fifth starter's role and the Sunday start.
Pitching coach Dick Bosman said Milacki's problems stem from bad location, not mechanics. Nowhere did that seem more apparent than on the home run to Munoz, who came up after Kent Hrbek was walked intentionally with a runner on third and two out in the first inning.
"[The walk] was because of what he's done against Bobby [.391 lifetime].," said Oates. "I don't know if you can question that if you see what he's done against us," said Oates. "The bottom line is he made a bad pitch with two strikes to the next hitter."
It was an interesting move, coming so early, even by Oates' reckoning. But given Milacki's recent performance and his history against Hrbek, the manager said he'd make the same decision "100 times out of 100 with the matchup I had."
"I'm telling [Milacki] I don't have confidence in you getting this guy, but I've got confidence in you getting the next guy out."
Even after spotting the Twins four runs in the first two innings, the Orioles had a chance to get back in the contest. Leo Gomez hit his first homer in a month, a three-run shot to left in the second inning, to pull the Orioles to within one, at 4-3.
But the Twins, who have won 20 of their last 25 games to take TC two-game lead in the AL West, held off the Orioles and cracked the seemingly invincible bullpen duo of Todd Frohwirth and Alan Mills.
The pair had gone 27 innings and the entire month of July without allowing a run, but Frohwirth gave up three runs in 3 2/3 innings, and Mills gave up one run and walked four batters in 1 1/3 innings.
Meanwhile, Twins relievers Tom Edens, who is working on his own 17-game scoreless streak, and Mark Guthrie shut down the Orioles the rest of the way, retiring 18 of the last 19 batters, allowing only Cal Ripken to reach on an eighth-inning throwing error by third baseman Scott Leius.