Mills does a number, but don't ask about it Stats are off-limit topic with superstitious reliever

Sidelight

August 30, 1998|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Trying to pass along a compliment to Orioles reliever Alan Mills can be like offering a T-bone to a vegetarian. With a smile stretching the ends of his Fu Manchu, he'll push it away.

As long as the subject has anything to do with baseball, Mills would rather go hungry than feast on superlatives.

Maybe it comes from losing parts of the past three seasons to injury. Maybe it's just part of his superstitious nature. Whatever the reason, he finds any mention of his statistics utterly distasteful, an unwanted invitation to jinxing himself.

Such a waste of meaty numbers.

Before being charged with two runs in an Aug. 21 loss to Cleveland, Mills hadn't been scored upon in 12 of his past 13 appearances. His scoreless-innings streak had reached 10, and during that time he had permitted only three hits and one walk.

After blanking Chicago over 1 2/3 innings on Thursday, Mills entered the next night's game against Kansas City with a runner on second and none out. The first batter was retired before Jeff Conine fought off an inside pitch and blooped a double down the right-field line. Mills issued an intentional walk, then struck out Jermaine Dye and speared Sal Fasano's hard bouncer to the mound, bringing a loud ovation from the sellout crowd at Camden Yards.

No longer dogged by poor health, Mills' 67 2/3 innings are the most he's thrown since 1993. Only six of his 35 inherited runners have scored, and he's held the lead in 20 of 22 opportunities.

Your thoughts, Alan?

"I don't even know the numbers. I don't want to know," said Mills, waving his hands. They probably would knock on wood if any was nearby.

Told that he's been highly effective, often the glue for a bullpen once coming apart at the seams, Mills hesitated before breaking into a grin and saying, "I don't know. I get lucky sometimes."

The club's staff was due for a reversal of fortune. Mills still shakes his head in disbelief as he recounts the injuries that felled Mike Mussina, Jimmy Key, Scott Kamieniecki and Doug Drabek. The emergency call-ups from the minor leagues. The nightly early-inning crises that forced manager Ray Miller to dip into his bullpen too soon, causing former setup men like Mills to adapt to strange and taxing roles.

"Early in the year it was just really strange," said Mills, who allowed one hit in an inning last night. "You had guys hurt, then you had rough periods where the starters weren't going deep in the games. It usually doesn't happen quite like that. You might have one or two guys struggling. But Moose got hurt, and Jimmy and Kammy. It was like a nightmare."

In the final year of his contract, Mills said last week that he didn't expect the Orioles to bring him back next season. Miller would be glad to.

"He's done a heck of a job for us," Miller said. "He's probably been the most reliable guy as far as health and stamina. He's got a nasty slider and a real good arm."

Just don't ask Mills about it. And don't expect him to travel this way on a two-way street.

"He's like that with us," said reliever Jesse Orosco. "He'll walk up to me and say, 'Man, you can't give up a hit.' I just laugh about it. He'll finish a game and I'll say the same thing and he'll go, 'I don't want to hear that. I don't want to hear that.' I'm with him every day and I can't get to his numbers, either."

It's almost as difficult getting Mills to remain quiet in the bullpen, especially with the right-hander's return to working the late innings. "It pushes him back further in the game so it lets him talk more. You can't stop him from talking," Orosco said.

"He used to stop about the fourth inning. Now, he doesn't until around the sixth. He's fun, though. He does commentary on the game. He's nice and loose, but when the time comes he gets his game face on."

And then he gets hitters out. You'll just have to take somebody else's word for it.

Pub Date: 8/30/98

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