Home run bats give Birds powerful push toward West Coast

August 27, 1992|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

*TC There is more than a month left in the season, with a lot o baseball to be played to determine the winner of the American League East. If the Orioles somehow wind up winning the division, they can point to two games of the just-concluded losing homestand that helped turn the season around.

The second of the two came last night, with Mike Devereaux and Randy Milligan each hitting two home runs that sparked a 6-4 comeback win over the California Angels and kept the Orioles within two games of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays.

Coming just one day after pitcher and team leader Rick Sutcliffe briefly put aside a personal tragedy to pitch eight strong innings en route to victory, last night's emotional win gave the Orioles their first series win since sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the opening days of August.

The win, accomplished primarily without the presence of manager Johnny Oates, who was ejected in the third inning for arguing with home-plate umpire Larry Young, also provided a tremendous amount of confidence for a team that begins a nine-game, 10-day road trip tomorrow night in Seattle.

"Coming back from three down [the Orioles trailed, 4-1] and with Moose coming up with two home runs definitely has boosted everyone," said Devereaux, who went 2-for-3 with two runs batted in. "But there's still a lot of work to be donein order for us to win our division."

That work began in exciting fashion before last night's sell-out crowd of 46,027, which cheered and screamed and generated excitement the way the crowds did earlier this season at Oriole Park when the team started with a 10-1 home record.

They cheered for Gregg Olson, who pitched the ninth inning and got the save -- his 29th of the season. They cheered because Devereaux, on pace for a 27-home run, 111-RBI season, established a career best in homers by hitting solo shots in the third and seventh innings. But most of all they cheered for Milligan, who hit a bases-empty homer in the sixth that broke a drought of 30 games, and a monstrous two-run shot to left-center in the seventh that gave the Orioles their first lead at 5-4.

It all added up to the Orioles' winning two of three against California in the series -- a feat the team had failed to accomplish recently against the likes of Seattle, Kansas City and Cleveland. Going into last night, the Birds were 0-4-1 in their last five series.

"Our record is not that good in coming back from behind in games this year," said Oates, whose ejection was his second this year. "So this win is great. If they're going to get hot, they couldn't find a better time."

Oates said before the game that his team was beginning to get a lot of the breaks that had eluded it early on, and the Orioles received some good fortune last night during a fifth inning in which they appeared to be on the verge of being buried by the Angels. California was up 2-1 when Damion Easley led off with a double and advanced to third on a bunt single by Luis Polonia. An error by starter Mike Mussina on a pick-off attempt to first that got past Milligan allowed Easley to score.

Consecutive singles by Luis Sojo and Junior Felix added another run and gave the Angels runners on first and second with no outs. But Tim Salmon lined out to left, and Sojo was caught stealing third on a botched hit-and-run attempt with Chad Curtis at the plate. Curtis then flied out to center field, leaving the Angels with just two runs and several blown opportunities.

"We had them on the ropes, but we just didn't execute," said John Wathan, California's acting manager, who added that there were several missed signs during the fifth inning. "We did a pretty good job, but just couldn't get him [Mussina] out of the game."

Curtis described the pitch thrown to him during the botched hit-and-run as "a fastball up by my head. I just couldn't get the bat going."

Milligan hit a solo homer in the fifth to make it 4-2. The Orioles

then took control two innings later when Chris Hoiles led off with a home run. Later that inning Milligan and Devereaux were taking Angels reliever Mike Butcher deep on back-to-back home runs.

In all, the Orioles had five home runs for the game, the second time that has occurred this year. The last time the Orioles had two players with two home runs in a game was in July 1988 when Fred Lynn and Eddie Murray hit a couple each.

For Oates, getting assistance from Milligan, who has struggled all season, was a plus.

"With Milligan, you could almost see it coming and with Devereaux, he's just continuing to play well," said Oates, who was ejected after arguing about a warning to Mussina when the pitcher hit Salmon with a curveball in the third inning.

"If this team is going to get hot, it couldn't have found a better time."

The Orioles went 5-4 on the last West Coast trip, and played well at home upon their return. An above-.500 record on this trip will give the team a winning record at Oakland, Seattle and California -- something that hasn't happened since 1987.

"This is the step we needed," said Devereaux who, along with Brady Anderson, have provided most of the offense this season. "Moose has been there for us in the past and will be there when it counts. When Moose starts hitting the ball, he can hit with the best of them.

"This is just a good sign for everyone to start coming to life like this. We're playing well on the road and it's nice to go on the road on a winning note."

But while Devereaux was pleased with the team's effort the last two games, he let it be known that he will not be totally satisfied by just competing for a division title. "This is a good feeling, but it would be better if we win the division," Devereaux said. "It takes a team effort, and we all know that."

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