Magical Moose moment means O's are really in hunt


For those who might have forgotten, here's a refresher course from Bill Ripken on dugout safety procedure after Randy Milligan hits a home run.

"You have to make sure he gets all his high-fives out of the way, so he doesn't break your fingers," Ripken said. "You don't want to get in too close when he's going, 'Bam, bam, bam!' "

Milligan did all that and more last night, not after his first homer in 31 games pulled the Orioles within 4-2 of California, but after his second in two innings gave them a 5-4 lead.

The second one was the biggie, a two-run shot that evoked memories of the three-run blast Milligan hit at Fenway Park in August of 1989 to tie the score of a game the Orioles had trailed 6-0.

That home run helped the Orioles stay in first place despite finishing a road trip 2-12. Last night's helped them stay two games behind Toronto despite finishing a homestand 4-5.

Orioles 6, Angels 4.

Momentum changes daily in a pennant race, but if ever a game resembled a turning point, this was it. Just ask the 46,023 fans who screamed until they were hoarse, "Moose! Moose!"

The Orioles were 0-4-1 in their previous five series. They trailed 4-1 after five innings with Mike Mussina pitching. They needed a spark heading into a nine-game West Coast trip.

Enter Milligan.

He joked that he had gone 144 games and 3,512 at-bats without a homer, apparently confusing himself with Cal Ripken. Milligan actually had hit one homer in his past 54 games. The slugging fool.

Whatever, the Moose is again on the loose, and let the high-fiver beware. Joe Orsulak, nursing a sprained left thumb, wisely raised only his right hand for Milligan to wallop last night.

It's tempting to attribute Milligan's surge to manager Johnny Oates, who moved him from the No. 5 to the No. 2 spot in the batting order last Friday. But the actual credit goes to hitting coach Greg Biagini.

Around the time Oates juggled his lineup, Biagini suggested Milligan alter his stance. No longer is the Moose in a deep crouch, feet spread far apart. He's standing nearly erect, with his feet closer together.

Biagini also convinced him to lift his front leg as a trigger. Milligan's kick isn't as pronounced as Julio Franco's or Ruben Sierra's, but at least now he's moving forward, giving himself a chance to drive the ball.

"I was down. I'm not going to say I wasn't," Milligan said. "I wasn't to the point where I was thinking about jumping off a bridge. I was more frustrated. A lot of times in a slump, you hit the ball good and it gets caught. But I wasn't hitting the ball good at all."

He averaged 16 homers his first three seasons with the Orioles, but entered last night's game with half that total. Batting fifth, his lack of power overshadowed the fact that he ranks fifth in the AL with a .395 on-base percentage.

No. 5 hitters aren't expected to walk, they're expected to drive in runs. Milligan, however, is fifth on the club with 44 RBI. At times, he considered being more aggressive, but always concluded, "That's just not me."

Neither Oates nor Biagini asked him to change. In fact, with hitters like Orsulak and Leo Gomez behind him, Milligan almost served as a second leadoff man. If Cal Ripken and Glenn Davis were hitting, Oates never would have made the switch.

That said, Milligan sees the advantage in hitting behind leadoff man Brady Anderson -- "It's like taking batting practice," he said. "He's always on base, so I pretty much know what pitch I'm going to see."

In the seventh inning, Anderson drew a one-out walk and stole his 43rd base after Chris Hoiles' leadoff homer had pulled the Orioles within one run. As usual, Milligan worked the count to 3-2. His goal was to score Anderson with a line-drive single.

Instead, he drilled a fastball off John Butcher into the left-field seats. Mike Devereaux followed with his second homer of the game two pitches later, and the Orioles had their first three-homer inning in more than four years.

Now if only Davis and Cal Ripken would follow suit in the 4-5 spots. Each hit a double last night, but Davis struck out three times and Ripken twice. Devereaux now has more homers (21) than the two combined.

Afterward, Milligan was asked about the lack of production from the 3-4-5 hitters. "I'm not in the middle of the lineup anymore," he replied. "You must be talking about those other guys."

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