Mills' hard-luck year isn't turning in ALCS He's feeling and pitching better, but his lone flaw in Game 4 led to loss

October 14, 1997|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- Alan Mills sat in front of his locker after another excruciating defeat Sunday night, this one putting the Orioles on the brink of elimination in the American League Championship Series. He had ice wrapped on his right elbow and wore the look of someone who had just watched a truck back over his dog.

He granted a television interview but needed to muster all his strength to rise from his chair. Moments earlier, he had been tagged with the loss when Armando Benitez allowed the runner he inherited from Mills to score in the ninth.

Mills deserved better, retiring the first six batters he faced, but he didn't get it. In a season during which so many of the breaks have been bad, why should Game 4 have been any different?

A leadoff walk to Manny Ramirez, who had fallen behind 0-2, ate at Mills. He wasted a pitch, hoping Ramirez would chase it, then couldn't find the plate.

"He had a great at-bat. He didn't bite after anything I was throwing," Mills said. "In that situation, you can't hang anything because he's a power hitter. I made what I thought were some good pitches to him, but he didn't bite. The only pitch I wish I could have back was the 3-2 [fastball] that was way off. Anything else, I probably wouldn't change.

"I just didn't get the job done."

His overall numbers this postseason reflect the opposite. Thrust into a more prominent role because of right-hander Terry Mathews' slump and manager Davey Johnson's reluctance to use him, Mills had appeared in three straight games before last night, totaling 3 1/3 innings. He gave up one hit and one run, walked two and struck out three. The Indians were batting .091 against him.

"When he throws his fastball over, as well as his slider, he's really tough on right-handed hitters," Johnson said. "He's been good."

Mills pitched a scoreless ninth in Game 2, striking out two, then stranded two runners in the ninth inning the next night by getting Sandy Alomar to ground out.

His only work in the Division Series came in Game 3 at Camden Yards, when he relieved starter Jimmy Key with two outs in the fifth and picked off Ken Griffey. He sandwiched two outs in the sixth around a double by Alex Rodriguez, striking out the last batter he faced, Jay Buhner, and was replaced by Arthur Rhodes.

Mills said that's the best he has been physically all year, and the good health continued into the ALCS. None of the Orioles wanted the season to end last night. For Mills, it would have been the greatest crime.

Coming off a season pocked with injuries, he started off well before missing two months with nerve damage in his left shoulder suffered during a collision with catcher Lenny Webster chasing a batting-practice grounder before an April 11 game at Camden Yards. He didn't feel prepared to pitch when called upon after being activated, and it showed in his control and his confidence.

"I'd go out there some days and wouldn't feel good, wouldn't have my good stuff, and a lot of people said it was in my mind. But I've been pitching too long to not know the difference," said Mills, who was 2-3 with a 4.89 ERA in 39 games and allowed runs in seven of 29 outings after the All-Star break.

"I don't know if my arm's beginning to get to where it was before or what, but I've felt better since the season ended."

"He's fresh," said pitching coach Ray Miller. "He missed all that time during the season because of a freak accident, so it makes him a little bit fresher than everybody else. He's stepped up very well for us."

Pub Date: 10/14/97

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