OAKLAND, Calif. -- Bob Milacki returned to the site of his greatest performance last night, and found the Oakland Coliseum ripe for an encore.
This is where Milacki combined with three Orioles relievers to no-hit the Oakland Athletics last season. He could not top that, but he came back from the minor leagues to carry a shutout into the ninth inning and score a 5-1 victory that pushed the division-leading A's to the brink of a damaging three-game sweep.
Milacki gave up just four singles in his first major-league start in nearly two months, but needed relief help to earn his sixth victory of the year. He worked into the ninth, but lost his chance to finish the game when he walked Jerry Browne to lead off the inning.
"It's good to come back and be able to contribute," said Milacki, whose sixth victory of the year kept the Orioles within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. "I wanted to give the guys six, seven or eight good innings and just help us win."
The Orioles came within one out of pitching a fourth consecutive shutout -- which would have been one short of the American League record -- but A's third baseman Carney Lansford broke it up with a two-out RBI single that skipped just past a diving Mark McLemore to end the Baltimore scoreless innings string at 37.
That is the longest string of scoreless innings by an Orioles pitching staff since Mike Cuellar, Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and Ross Grimsley combined to pitch 54 straight (including the AL record five straight shutouts) in 1974.
Left-hander Pat Clements followed Milacki to the mound and gave up a single to pinch hitter Randy Ready. Right-hander Todd Frohwirth came on to get a double play, but couldn't nail down the shutout.
Nevertheless, the Orioles won their fourth straight and their sixth in the last seven games, the only bad news a slightly strained Achilles' tendon that forced second baseman Bill Ripken out of the game in the late innings. He is listed as day to day.
Milacki didn't need a lot of offensive help, but he got a bases-empty home run from Randy Milligan in the fourth inning and a bases-loaded two-run single from Mike Devereaux in the seventh to help him score his first major-league win since June 8.
Devereaux, who is now 11-for-19 with 32 RBI in bases-loaded situations this year, went on to a four-hit performance that raised his average to .282. It was the third time this year he has had four hits or more.
"I'm feeling pretty confident up there," Devereaux said. "That [the bases-loaded situation in the seventh] was just a good situation to hit in, because you know that if you don't pop up or strike out, you're going to drive in a run."
Milacki took the mound against an Oakland lineup that bore little resemblance to the bruising batting order that had intimidated the rest of the league for much of the past five years. The post-Canseco lineup included designated hitter Harold Baines batting third and catcher Terry Steinbach in the cleanup spot. It was bolstered by the return of outfielder Dave Henderson from the disabled list, but the departure of Canseco and the absence of injured Mark McGwire left it looking very average indeed.
"That definitely made a difference," Milacki said. "If you have to pitch around someone you can without McGwire and Canseco in there. I'm not saying that the other hitters aren't good, but it does make a difference."
This has not been a pleasant season for the 28-year-old right-hander, who was optioned back to the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings after compiling a 5-7 record and a 6.34 ERA during the first half of the season. But he went down and won seven of eight minor-league decisions to earn a chance to re-enter the starting rotation.
Whether he stays among the starting five remains to be seen, since newly acquired left-hander Craig Lefferts will be available to start the next time there is an opening. Manager Johnny Oates said before the game that he will not make a decision on the starter for Sunday's road trip finale until after he meets with Lefferts today.
If nothing else, Milacki made it a very difficult decision.
"I love it," Oates said. "Now, I can't lose, at least until after that game."
Oakland manager Tony La Russa also inserted a spot starter into the rotation for last night's game, and right-hander Joe Slusarski was very effective the first time through the Orioles lineup.
He did not allow a hit to the first 10 batters he faced, but Milligan led off the fourth with a towering home run to center field to break the scoreless tie. Devereaux followed with a single to left and scored the second run of the inning on a two-out double by Chito Martinez.
Milligan continues to climb out of a lengthy slump. He is batting .417 in his last seven games, with three doubles, three home runs and seven RBI after enduring a 57-game struggle in which he batted .208 with two home runs and 12 RBI.