Gregg Olson picked a good time to get even. Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas had made him look bad -- very bad -- on Friday night, so it was only fair that he return the favor last night.
He dropped a wicked, two-strike curveball on Thomas with two on and two outs in the top of the ninth inning to secure a 5-2 victory for the Orioles and record his sixth save of the season.
Thomas never took the bat off his shoulder, which is probably a good thing. He had hit two home runs Friday night, including the game-winner off Olson in the 10th inning. He had driven in both of the White Sox runs last night with RBI singles in his first two at-bats.
He was the last person the Orioles wanted to see at the plate representing the tying run in the ninth, but Olson saved his best pitch for last to even the personal score and the series at a game apiece. The fact that the Toronto Blue Jays lost to the California Angels, 2-1, to put the Orioles back into first place just made the redemptive win that much sweeter.
"That was a big at-bat, considering what he did last night," Olson said. "There were 45,000 people here who remembered what he did last night, so if I said it wasn't in the back of my mind, I'd be lying."
Thomas made him pay for a bad pitch. He made Thomas look at a very, very good pitch, setting it up with a high fastball that the big first baseman tried to hit over the Holiday Inn. The big-breaking curve just froze him in his tracks.
"It was a great pitch," said Thomas, a teammate of Olson's for two years at Auburn University. "I've seen it a million times. He's a good pitcher. I got him last night. He got me tonight. That's baseball."
Somebody finally got Thomas, who drove in five of the White Sox's six runs in the first two games of the series and scored the other one. He came to the plate with a .472 lifetime average, seven home runs and 19 RBI in just 53 career at-bats against the Orioles. The way he has been swinging the bat, only a perfect pitch would do.
"That was a perfect spot for it," manager Johnny Oates said. "We finally made a couple of pitches on him. It just seems like when he's hot, he hits the pitches that you make and he hits the pitches that you don't make."
The Orioles won for the 13th time in 16 games at Oriole Park, but they could have made it through the night on a lot less adrenalin if they could have converted on a couple of opportunities to blow the game open in the late innings. Sam Horn bounced into a bases-loaded double play in the seventh and Brady Anderson popped into a double play on an attempted squeeze bunt with the bases full in the eighth.
"It was one of those nights you look back on and, boy, you're glad you won," Oates said.
Right-hander Bob Milacki pitched 5 1/3 innings and gave up eight hits on the way to his first victory since April 19. Three Orioles relievers held the explosive White Sox lineup to one hit the rest of the way.
Right-hander Alan Mills turned in another strong middle-relief performance, and Mike Flanagan came on to get a big out to shut down a budding White Sox rally in the eighth before Olson added a scoreless ninth and sent the sellout crowd of 45,175 home happy again.
But the Orioles got another scare last night when White Sox starter Alex Fernandez hit Bill Ripken in the head with a pitch in the second inning. Ripken, who was banged up in a collision with Randy Milligan in Kansas City two weeks ago, is building up an impressive X-ray portfolio, but he was fortunate to suffer only a bruised forehead this time.
Milacki (2-2) was fortunate to come away a winner. He is still trying to find his way around the mound, and Thomas was not a lot of help last night. He delivered a two-out RBI single in the first inning and drove home the White Sox's second run with an excuse-me single in the third. The guy can even hurt you with a checked swing.
The White Sox had runners on base in each of the first three innings, but Milacki appeared to be taking the advice of his manager and throwing the ball over the plate. Oates has been urging him to throw more strikes early in the count, which might account for the five hits he had given up through the third.
Milacki was coming off a string of three starts in which he pitched a total of 10 2/3 innings and gave up 11 earned runs, but Oates said before the game that his No. 2 starter was under no extra pressure to turn things around last night.
"He's not pitching for his spot," Oates said. "He's going to be there all year. He just needs to relax and pitch."
The formidable White Sox lineup doesn't exactly inspire confidence in an opposing starter, but Oates has tried to persuade Milacki to have more confidence in his ability to throw quality pitches in the strike zone.
"Not just know he can," Oates said. "He needs to throw strikes. He needs to get a little more aggressive out there. But we know he's a streaky pitcher. He'll throw three or four games like that and then give you seven masterpieces in a row."
Last night's performance might not fall into that category, but Milacki would have taken a shutout into the late innings if not for Thomas. (He probably isn't the first pitcher who can say that.) He finally turned a two-run lead over to the bullpen with a runner on and one out in the sixth.
The Orioles struck for three runs off Fernandez in the second inning. They loaded the bases with no one out and tied the game on an RBI ground out by Leo Gomez. That's when Bill Ripken took a Fernandez fastball off the side of his head, prompting a chorus of boos.
Ripken left the game and would undergo precautionary X-rays at University Hospital. The club went on to score two more runs when Anderson grounded to short and Steve Sax threw the double-play relay into the first-base camera well.
That would not be the last of the inside pitches. Milacki came back in the third and sent Sax to the dirt with a high, hard one. But Sax would have the last laugh, getting up to drive a sharp grounder off Milacki's leg for an infield hit. In the bruise department, the Orioles went down, 2-0, though Milacki remained in the game for three more innings.
Anderson and Joe Orsulak teamed up to pad the lead in the fifth. Anderson led off with a single and Orsulak one-hopped the right-field fence for his first triple of the year. The Orioles should have added one more run in the inning, but Orsulak broke to the plate on Cal Ripken's bouncer to third and was tagged out in a rundown.