Twenty years ago, the Orioles spun their last no-hitter. Bob Milacki was on the mound that day; then, he wasn't. The big righthander watched the last few innings on TV in the Orioles' clubhouse after having pitched the first six.
Lifted from the game after a line drive struck his throwing hand, Milacki gave way to a string of relievers determined to preserve what he'd started. All told, four arms combined to blank the Oakland A's, 2-0, tying a major league record for the most pitchers ever to share a no-hitter.
The feat, in 1991, won a place in the record books for Milacki, 46, who played five years in Baltimore and is now the pitching coach for the Philadelphia Phillies' Class AA team in Reading, Pa. Routinely, he said, fans still approach him before games to ask if he'll autograph the baseball card issued to commemorate the no-hitter.
The card bears a picture of all four Orioles who pitched that day. The others were Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson and Gregg Olsen, the closer.
Milacki said he never minded sharing the limelight.
"It's a lot more special if you do it all yourself," he said of the no-hitter. "But then you think, 'How many times does this happen in the big leagues?' Not many."
By game's end, Milacki recalled, he had showered and was sitting alone at his locker, icing his swollen right hand. But when Oakland's Harold Baines fanned for the final out, he said, "I did pump my fist a few times."
On the field, confusion reigned. Players milled about, unsure of whom to hug. Which Oriole was the hero? And where was Milacki, who'd started this gem?
"Everybody congratulated different people," Oakland manager Tony LaRussa said then. "Nobody knew who to shake hands with."
In the clubhouse, the bubbly flowed. Milacki still has one of the four champagne bottles signed that day by all four pitchers.
"It's sitting in my trophy case at home, in Arizona," he said. "Not that there are that many other [awards] around it."
And the ball from the no-hitter?
"I think Gregg Olsen has it," he said.
The idea of presenting the pitchers with autographed bottles as keepsakes came from Flanagan, the Orioles' onetime Cy Young Award winner who committed suicide August 24.
"He was more excited about the no-hitter than I was," Milacki recalled. "I just saw it as my having pitched a shutout for six innings, but afterward, Mike made sure I knew it was a real special moment. I looked up to him; he was my mentor."
The no-hitter was a highlight in an uneven career for Milacki, an imposing (6-4, 220) figure whom teammate Bill Ripken nicknamed "Big Bird." He toiled five years in the minors before his promotion late in 1988 when the Orioles (54-107) were the worst team in baseball.
Milacki shined that September, stopping the Detroit Tigers on one hit and the New York Yankees on three, and knocking both clubs from the pennant race.
"In my wildest dreams, I didn't think that would happen," he said. "I was just trying to not embarrass myself."
A solid 1989 followed. Milacki went 14-12, led the AL in games started and helped keep Baltimore in the chase to the end. En route, he shut out Minnesota on three hits while facing the minimum of 27 batters, an achievement matched by only two other Orioles (Jim Palmer and Flanagan).
His repertoire: a serviceable fastball, a nice slider and a great change-up.
"I had a feel for hitters, and how to make them put balls in play," he said. "I gave up my share of hard-hit balls, but we had a pretty good defense."
The next year was disappointing — Milacki won one of his first 10 starts and developed tendinitis — but he rebounded in 1991 to lead the club in victories (10) at a time when the Orioles had the worst earned run average in the majors (4.59).
The following season, he struggled again. Rocked for the sixth time in as many starts, Milacki was yanked to a chorus of boos before the 25th straight sellout crowd at Camden Yards. He was sent to the minors and released that winter.
He left Baltimore with a .500 record (37-37), kicked around baseball for a few more years and retired.
"It was time," he said. "My fastball had caught up to my changeup."
Coaching beckoned. Toward the end of his career, Milacki said, "A lot of young guys would ask me questions about pitching, and I got a thrill out of seeing them have success. I want to get to the big leagues again, as a bullpen or pitching coach."
His manager at Reading is another former Oriole, catcher Mark Parent.
As a coach, Milacki said, some players heed his advice "and some are stubborn. I was probably more stubborn after I got to the big leagues. I didn't listen very well, or make changes where I should have.
"If I knew then what I know now, maybe I would have had more success. Maybe I tried to be someone I wasn't, rather than to stay within myself.
"The goal is to become a pitcher, not a thrower. But it's hard to tell young guys that."
1991 Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.