The Orioles had been waiting for the Moose to get loose. Randy Milligan had been waiting, too -- waiting more than a month to hit one where it hurts the most.
So last night, he hit two.
Milligan, who had not homered since July 21, hit a bases-empty shot in the fifth inning and a two-run homer in the seventh to lead a five-homer barrage that dropped the California Angels, 6-4, before a lively sellout crowd at Camden Yards.
Center fielder Mike Devereaux also hit two homers and Chris Hoiles hit his first since June 16 as the Orioles took the deciding game of the series and remained two games behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays.
It was the second time this year that the Orioles have hit five homers in a game (May 1 against Seattle was the other). They have not hit more since they hit six in a game twice in 1987. Curiously enough, last night's power surge came seven years to the day after former Orioles first baseman Eddie Murray hit three homers to lead a seven-homer assault against the Angels in Anaheim.
Milligan could do without the history lesson. He was having enough trouble remembering his last jog around the bases. When he homered off Angels starter Julio Valero in the sixth inning, it was only his second home run in the last 55 games. When he homered off Mike Butcher in the sixth, he brought the Orioles from behind and brought the crowd back into the pennant race.
"I've felt the last few games that I've been swinging the bat better," said Milligan, whose ninth and 10th home runs made him the seventh Orioles player to reach double figures this year. "With Brady [Anderson] on second base and us down a run, I was just trying to hit a line drive and tie the game."
Instead, he hit a towering fly ball that was never in danger of staying in the park. Milligan couldn't hide his excitement as he circled the bases and the crowd of 46,023 couldn't contain itself.
He got a lengthy ovation that barely had subsided when Devereaux hit his second homer. Devereaux had put the Orioles on the scoreboard in the third inning with his 20th of the season. His 21st simply made it easier for reliever Todd Frohwirth to get the victory and Gregg Olson to record his 29th save.
Devereaux has been doing it all along, but the return of Milligan as a major offensive force would be a big step forward for a team that has competed well in spite of the recent struggles of Milligan, Cal Ripken and Glenn Davis.
"Everyone wants to contribute at this point in the year," Milligan said. "Of course, you need Cal and Glenn and myself to contribute, but there are other guys on this team that are picking us up. Hopefully, the three of us will start to contribute and we can get on a roll."
The victory was an important one for a number of reasons. It kept the Orioles on pace with the Blue Jays. It put another game between the Orioles and the third-place Brewers, who lost last night to the Yankees to fall 4 1/2 games out of first. It also showed that the Orioles can come back in the late innings, something they have not done very often of late.
"That was really a good win for us," said manager Johnny Oates, who had to watch the last 6 1/2 innings on television after he was ejected by home-plate umpire Larry Young in the third inning. "Our record has not been really good coming back in the late innings."
Oates also knows what a lift his club would get from the rejuvenation of Milligan, Davis and Ripken. Devereaux and Anderson have been carrying the club offensively, but they cannot be expected to do it by themselves forever.
"If they are going to get on a roll," Oates said, "now's the time to do it."
The back-to-back homers in the seventh also helped take right-hander Mike Mussina off the hook after a six-inning performance in which he gave up four runs on nine hits. Things went smoothly for a couple of innings, but it was not one of his better nights.
The Orioles ran into all kinds of trouble in the third. Mussina gave up two runs on a couple of extra-base hits and got a warning from Young when he plunked rookie Tim Salmon on the arm with a two-out curveball.
The warning -- which had to be based on the assumption that Mussina threw at Salmon intentionally -- brought Oates out of the dugout at warp speed and prompted an argument that would lead to his second ejection of the season.
Why was Mussina warned? Because it is up to the umpire to determine whether a pitch was intentional and it is his responsibility to defuse any situation that could escalate into a beanball exchange.
Why was Oates ejected? Because he apparently questioned Young's judgment, which is considered insensitive by many of today's umpires.
It wasn't the first time in the inning that the judgment of an umpire had been questioned. It wasn't even the second time. Angels manager John Wathan argued with first-base umpire Brian O'Nora after Luis Polonia was called out on a close play. The video replay indicated that Wathan was right. Just moments later, Orioles third baseman Leo Gomez got into a debate with third-base umpire John Shulock after Luis Sojo was ruled safe on a close tag play at third. This time, the replay supported Shulock.
The only umpire who did not invoke anyone's wrath was Don Denkinger, who must have felt left out because he came all the way from second base to home to join in the argument between Oates and Young.
Nothing would come of the warning. Mussina didn't come close to hitting anyone else and neither did Valera, who was too busy stifling the Orioles offense to get involved.
Mussina's problems started with No. 9 hitter Damion Easley, who opened the Angels' two-run third with a double and ignited a two-run fifth with a double.
Sojo brought him home with a long triple in the third and followed him to the plate on a sacrifice fly by Junior Felix. Polonia moved Easley over with a bunt single in the fifth and Mussina brought him home with an errant pickoff throw to first. The fourth Angels run scored when Felix dropped a soft fly ball into shallow left field.
Valera survived a difficult second inning before settling down to work into the sixth. He gave up a double to Cal Ripken and walked two batters to load the bases, then fell behind 3-1 on the count to Bill Ripken. Valera's solid performance may have turned on the next pitch -- a fastball away that had Ripken jogging toward first base before Young called it a strike. Ripken returned to the plate and popped up a full-count fastball to end the inning.