Tigers leave Milacki, Orioles doubled over in defeat

October 01, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

DETROIT -- When it was over, that's about all there was to say.

The Orioles' 4-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers here last night was as methodical as they come -- even in the final week of the season.

"There isn't much you can say about that game except that it was played," understated Orioles manager Johnny Oates. By today's standards it was played in double-time -- two hours and 30 minutes -- and that had a double meaning.

For the Orioles hit into four double plays, and six of the seven hits allowed by Bob Milacki were doubles, providing an inconclusive ending to a disappointing year for the big right-hander. Milacki (6-8) opened the season as the Orioles' No. 4 starter, spent half the season in Rochester, then returned for the final month.

In four appearances, two starts, Milacki left a mixed impression.

"He ranged from outstanding to OK," said Oates, when asked to appraise Milacki's overall performance. "Against Oakland [in his last start, Sept. 1] he threw like a 20-game winner. Tonight he was behind [in the count] too much."

Milacki allowed only four hits and one run in eight innings against Oakland in his last start, and three hits and one run in 6 1/3 relief innings against Toronto in his last appearance a week ago today.

In the four games since his return from Rochester, Milacki was 1-1 with a 4.84 earned run average in 22 1/3 innings. He had two good outings, one bad and last night's mediocre performance. In a word, the late season grade was inconclusive for Milacki, who exited the clubhouse before he could be asked for a self-evaluation.

Ever since he broke in with stunning success in the last month of 1988 and followed with 14 wins in 1989, Milacki has been considered a cornerstone of the Orioles' rotation. But that cornerstone has been chipped each succeeding year, leaving his immediate future clouded.

Next year he could turn out to be a calculated gamble for one of the expansion franchises, return to compete for a spot in the Orioles' rotation -- or become a free agent if the club either refuses arbitration or doesn't offer a contract.

It is generally agreed that Milacki has had no more control over his pitches than he does over his whereabouts next year. The consensus is that Milacki has lost a few miles off his fastball since 1989, but that it is relatively insignificant.

"In the game against Oakland, he threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, and was constantly ahead of the hitters," said Oates, who managed Milacki at Rochester in 1988. "When he pitches like that he can be effective. But when he's constantly behind the hitters, like he was tonight, then he's going to have problems."

Last night, the Orioles had problems from the outset. Against right-hander John Doherty, they hit into double plays in the first two innings, and three of the first four. The lone exception was when Cal Ripken took a third strike with the bases loaded in the third inning. Fittingly, it was a double-play grounder that ended the game.

Other than three hits by Glenn Davis, including his 12th home run, which accounted for both of their runs, the Orioles took no offense to the game at all.

"I like his arm," Oates said of Doherty, "but from what I've seen he's basically a one-pitch [fastball] pitcher. Right-handed hitters seem to have better success against him, because they take away the sinker, and he has better success against left-handers."

That was definitely evident last night. Right-handers collected eight of the nine hits in the six innings Doherty worked, and Chito Martinez, one of the three left-handers, hit into two of the three double plays he induced.

Mark Leiter and Mike Henneman finished the game, leaving the Orioles to look forward only to a trip to the other side of Lake Erie and a long weekend in Cleveland.

Nothing of significance will happen there, Milwaukee having already clinched no worse than a tie for second place, but there are a few mean

ingless goals.

"You always want to win as many as you can," said Oates, noting that four wins would enable the Orioles to finish with 90, a number generally considered the mark of a legitimate contender. "And if we can't win 90, then 88 is the next goal."

Why 88? "That's more than the 1989 team [87]," said Oates. "You always have to have something to strive for."

It's not always easy, and last night's game was Exhibit A for that fact.

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