Milton's night over before he starts

Former Terrapin suffers lateral strain of left knee warming up before game

August 07, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Eric Milton was supposed to make his fifth career start against the Orioles last night. He didn't even make it out of the bullpen.

Rather than celebrate another homecoming, the former University of Maryland pitcher was receiving his flight plans for an early departure. Milton is scheduled to undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test in Minnesota today after suffering a lateral strain of the left knee while warming up before the game.

Manager Ron Gardenhire suggested that Milton also might have torn cartilage in the knee after hearing a popping sound. If so, he'd need surgery that could keep him out for three weeks.

"He only had a couple pitches left," said Gardenhire, who learned of the injury while exchanging lineup cards. "It looks like it's some kind of tear from what the doctor said here. It's better right now than it would be deeper into September. This way we have a chance to get him back and he can finish out the season."

Milton wouldn't comment after the game. Walking past reporters with his left leg kept stiff, he said, "I didn't pitch today. I don't have anything for you."

Commissioner Bud Selig might not succeed in eliminating the Twins after the season, but Milton became one of the rare pitchers to be contracted from a game.

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski said Milton released the ball, hesitated and began to stretch. "I asked, `Are you all right?' He threw another pitch and said he felt something pop."

Just when the Twins' rotation had gotten healthy, Milton limped out of it.

They lost Joe Mays for 83 games this season with an inflamed muscle and tendon in his right elbow. Brad Radke missed 69 games with a groin injury. Most teams would have collapsed, but the Twins were too busy running away with their division.

Will Milton be able to keep pace? His 24 starts were tied for first in the American League. His next one will depend on the MRI, which the Twins will review with fingers crossed.

"He's been our horse," Pierzynski said, "and we've ridden him for a while."

Milton's record stayed at 13-7, with only one defeat since June 25. A former No. 1 draft pick of the New York Yankees, he must wait another day for his first career victory over the Orioles. He's 0-3 with a 9.15 ERA against them, with all three losses coming at Camden Yards.

As the emergency fill-in, Johan Santana struck out nine batters and was poised for the victory until Marty Cordova's two-run homer in the sixth gave the Orioles a 3-2 lead. It wasn't a bad outing. It just wasn't Eric Milton.

"We thought we were getting on a pretty good roll. We got all our boys back," Gardenhire said. "You know what? This just makes us a stronger team. You have to play through these things, and hopefully we'll be able to do that."

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