The little people win a big game

JOHN EISENBERG

August 12, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

TORONTO -- It was a night for little people. Do we have enough fingers to count the ways?

A night when Jack Morris, a pitcher making $5 million this year, lost to Alan Mills, a pitcher making only $4,863,000 less.

A night when Todd Frohwirth struck out Joe Carter and Dave Winfield back-to-back with two runners on base -- using just six pitches.

A night when Bill Ripken drove in the biggest run with what Morris called "a perfectly placed wedge shot."

Little people, little hits.

A night when Mark Parent, most recently of the Rochester Red Wings, drove in the second run with a bases-loaded walk.

Very little people in a very big game, carrying the Orioles to a 3-0 win that was on their most critical list, coming a night after they had lost a game they needed to win.

Instead of falling four games behind the Blue Jays, they are back in the running in this four-game series. Losing the first two games was the possible prelude to disaster.

Now, with Ben McDonald and Arthur Rhodes starting the next two games, the Orioles have every reason to think as big as they want. It is not as if the Jays are invulnerable, with their rotation in tatters.

"You can say that no game is bigger than any other, but this one tonight was real, real big for us," manager Johnny Oates said.

Big game, little people. And the biggest little man was Mills.

"What can I say about him?" Oates said. "He's just amazing. He just keeps going out there and hanging up zeros."

Mills was making the fourth start of his career. Morris was making his 455th in a row. But Morris shattered early, giving up four hits, four walks and three runs in the first four innings.

Mills did not have it easy, mind you. The Jays left seven runners on base in his five innings, including three at third. But Mills escaped each time.

Since he was coming out of the bullpen to start -- we will get to that in a minute -- Oates put a 100-pitch limit on him. The deal came down with two outs in the bottom of the fifth and the Orioles already up three.

The Jays had runners on first and second, Mills having just walked Carter with his 95th pitch -- a slider that did not slide. Now Winfield was coming up. Oates went to the mound.

"I thought I was gone when I saw him coming toward me," Mills said.

But Oates was not sure what he was going to do as he approached the mound. He did not like the looks of the unsliding slider that Mills had thrown to Carter. For one of the few times in the long season, Oates' mind was not made up when he left the dugout.

4 "How do you feel?" he asked as he reached Mills.

"Feel good, feel real good," Mills said.

"If I keep you out here, this is the last batter you're facing, either way," Oates said.

"Fine," Mills said. "I can get him."

Oates nodded. "Make good pitches," he said, and left the mound.

The first pitch Mills threw to Winfield was a fastball that bounced a foot in front of the plate and got away from Parent, bouncing sharply into the Jays dugout. The runners advanced to second and third.

"What could I do but forget it?" Mills said. "You can't live in the past standing out there."

The next pitch was a fastball and Winfield swung. The ball bounced on three hops to Bill Ripken at second. The inning was over.

Mills was finished for the night, but not finished as a starter. That is obvious now. Oates has hedged about his plans for this Yankees giveaway who has been such a surprise this year, but the manager all but gave himself away last night: By next year, Mills will be starting.

"I can get pretty exciting thinking about throwing the four arms we're throwing in this series back-to-back-to-back-to-back," Oates said.

A good move. It is equally obvious that Mills would be more useful in the rotation. His record is 8-2, but the Orioles are just 13-12 in games in which he has appeared. Why? Because so often he comes in when the club is far behind. Why not let that 93 mph fastball and nasty slider start at 0-0 on the scoreboard instead of 6-1?

Anyway, Mills gave the ball up to Frohwirth, who was as masterful as he was rotten a couple of weeks ago, having clearly regained his form. His sixth inning was priceless, the six-pitch number on Carter and Winfield.

"The sixth inning was great, very exciting," Frohwirth said. "I've never been in a pennant race before."

A little guy, standing big.

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