Mills' triple punch-out flattens Rangers

INSIDE PITCH

April 10, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

Throughout the season, Jim Henneman of The Sun's sports staff will offer his inside pitch -- an analytical look at the turning point in a particular Orioles game, a trend affecting the team or an important aspect of a player's performance.

In this era of specialization, it seems every time a relief pitcher draws a breath, there is a statistic to document the occasion.

Whether that's good or bad remains to be determined, but even they would have a tough time classifying the performance of Alan Mills yesterday.

On paper it wasn't very impressive -- two hits, including a home run, one walk and three runs in 2 1/3 innings. In baseball parlance these days, he got unofficial credit for a hold, because he didn't give up the lead in the sixth inning, and a scare, because a three-run home run by the Texas Rangers' Juan Gonzalez in the eighth wiped out all but one run of a 6-2 Orioles lead.

Mills wasn't credited with a win or a save in the Orioles' 7-5 victory, but he may have had as much to do with the result as anybody.

When Mills entered the game the Orioles were leading 3-2, but the Rangers had runners on second and third with none out. They also had Gonzalez, Jose Canseco and Dean Palmer, one of the most powerful trios in the game, as their next three hitters.

When Johnny Oates handed Mills the ball, the Orioles manager off-handedly said, "All you've got to do is strike out three in a row."

4 He didn't expect Mills would take him seriously.

But if the right-hander didn't, he had a funny way of showing it.

"In that situation, I'm thinking, 'Let's get out of here no worse than even,' " said Oates. "I'm hoping for no worse than maybe a ground ball or sacrifice fly and a strikeout. And he [Mills] goes and punches out three in a row."

There's no question the game turned on the sequence of pitches that knocked out Gonzalez (on a low slider out of the strike zone), Canseco and Palmer (both on fastballs on the outside edge of home plate).

"Those guys don't hit too many ground balls," said Mills, who was almost reluctant to say strikeouts were even a priority.

All three of the Rangers' sluggers are fly-ball hitters.

"And sometimes they stay in the air for a long time," said Oates.

L So, given the circumstances, Mills said, "I'm going for it."

He did so, and with gusto.

"As far as location of his fastball and bite on his slider, I think that's the best I've ever seen him throw," said catcher Chris Hoiles. "In a situation like that, you're naturally thinking strikeouts, especially when you get deep into the count."

And the deeper Mills went, the better he got. Two innings later he would give up the three-run homer to Gonzalez on a pitch he said "came back over the middle of the plate."

Thanks to a two-run homer by Hoiles in the bottom of the sixth, the blow by Gonzalez didn't have the sting it would have had in the sixth. The only damage was done to Mills' ERA, which went from zero to 10.13.

But he escaped a blown save, got unofficial credit for a hold and a scare, and the Orioles got a win.

It could have been a lot worse.

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