OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Orioles didn't have to face Jose Canseco or Mark McGwire or even Ruben Sierra, but make no mistake. There was nothing cheap about the three-game sweep they completed at the Oakland Coliseum yesterday.
The Oakland Athletics, even without their biggest guns, still are the best team in the American League West, and they were overwhelmed by an Orioles pitching staff that seemed undermanned just a week or so ago.
This time, Ben McDonald and Alan Mills combined to give up just two hits in 10 innings to score a hard-fought, 2-1 victory. The Orioles gave up two runs in the series to run their winning streak to five games and climb 17 games above .500 for the first time this season.
The victory also shaved their divisional deficit to a half-game as the first-place Toronto Blue Jays lost to Chicago, 3-2, last night. It also helped the resurgent Minnesota Twins cut into the A's AL West lead. They have gained a game a day since Canseco was traded to the Texas Rangers Monday and now trail Oakland by 4 1/2 games.
It was a big win for everyone in the Orioles clubhouse, but it was particularly large for manager Johnny Oates, who evened his career record as a major-league manager at 129-129. He had not been at .500 since he was 5-5 after his first 10 games in 1991.
There were plenty of moments yesterday when it didn't look as if he would get there. Oakland starter Mike Moore handcuffed the Orioles for the fourth time this year, giving up just a sixth-inning, bases-empty home run to Mike Devereaux in nine innings of work. The A's evened the game in the bottom of the sixth, and the stalemate lasted until Randy Milligan lined an RBI double off left-hander Rick Honeycutt in the 10th.
Honeycutt come on in relief of Moore and walked Mark McLemore to lead off the 10th. Brady Anderson followed with a sacrifice bunt that left runners at first and third when first baseman Carney Lansford threw the ball down the right-field line.
Oakland manager Tony La Russa had stopper Dennis Eckersley warming in the bullpen, but he chose to stay with Honeycutt for one more batter. It was a move that would cost him the game.
Milligan said he thought that Eckersley was coming into the game. He was so sure that he went back to the bat rack and chose a bat with a wider head to increase his chances of making contact. What did he think when he turned around and saw that La Russa was not making a change?
"I ran up there so he wouldn't have a chance to change his mind," Milligan said.
Honeycutt went for the first-pitch strike, and Milligan hit it into the left-field corner to drive home a run. The Orioles had runners at second and third with no one out and looked as if they would be able to give Mills some breathing room, but Eckersley came on to work out of the jam.
No matter. Mills, who took over for McDonald with two on and no one out in the seventh, completed his fourth inning of hitless relief to earn his ninth victory of the year. The combined two-hitter was the fifth consecutive overpowering pitching performance by the Orioles, who gave up 12 hits (two doubles and 10 singles) in the entire series against the A's.
"It's starting to snowball a little bit like it did in spring training," Oates said. "Hopefully, everybody catches on and it goes on for a while."
McDonald worked six innings and gave up a run on two hits. Mills picked up from there and made it look surprisingly easy the rest of the way. He improved his record to 9-3 and dropped his ERA to 2.36.
"That's the way he has pitched all year," said Oates. "You look at his stats, and maybe he's not a no-hit pitcher, but he has put a lot of zeros up there for us."
The Orioles already have guaranteed themselves a winning record on what traditionally has been a very difficult West Coast trip. They have won five of the first six games with three left to play this weekend against the struggling California Angels. They also had a winning record the last time they passed through, going 5-4 and taking a series from the A's.
This is the first season the Orioles have won five games in Oakland since 1978.
"I think it's a big lift for everybody in this clubhouse to come in here and sweep and also win both West Coast swings," Milligan said. "I think that shows what kind of club we have."
It has been a showcase for Milligan, who has come out of a lengthy slump to be one of the most productive hitters during the 7-1 surge. He also had a home run in Tuesday night's game, a four-hit performance in Seattle and a two-homer game against the Angels last week.
"There are still a few games to go, but we always look at the West Coast trip as a make-or-break thing," he said. "Back in '89, it really killed us. We didn't want to let that happen again."