BOSTON -- The worst for Alan Mills came during the home opener against Milwaukee on May 1.
Joe Oliver had just homered off Mills, and the Orioles reliever was so furious at himself -- another hit, another run -- that after Oliver circled the bases and Mills glared in to face the next hitter, he couldn't see who was batting. This could be a working definition of rage.
How different Mills was Tuesday night. In the four days since his last appearance, Mills decided he really was going to focus on making the best possible pitch in the best possible spot in the strike zone. In the first week, he was throwing hard, with location a secondary concern, and opponents were hitting him hard. Something bad happened in each of his first six appearances, and his ERA was 13.50.
Tuesday, however, facing the Red Sox, Mills had his best outing of the year, one of the best by any Orioles pitcher this season, throwing three no-hit innings, walking one and striking out three.
"I felt pretty good out there," he said. "I felt a little winded at the end, maybe because I haven't been extended [to three innings]."
Orioles starter Ben McDonald said that Mills' turnaround could be "huge for us."
"Mills is a guy we really need. That was great to see. Hopefully, this outing will help his confidence."
Mills is important to the Orioles because of the relative lack of experience in the bullpen. Closer Doug Jones has been around baseball, it seems, since before dinosaurs became extinct. But Armando Benitez is a rookie, Brad Pennington has one year in the big leagues and Mike Oquist less than a year.
Mills often will serve as the bridge from the starters to Benitez and Jones, being called on in the sixth or seventh inning in games that are tied or close.
"It was encouraging to see Mills throw the way he did," catcher Chris Hoiles said. "Our pitching is very important to us. Our bullpen is good, the starting staff is good, and they'll take us as far as we're going to go."
Actually, Mills said he felt like he was improving May 4, against the Brewers. He gave up a run to Milwaukee in 2 1/3 innings, but he made good pitches, striking out slugger Greg Vaughn. Since allowing eight runs in his first 3 2/3 innings, he has given up one run in his past 5 1/3 innings.
In fact, the entire bullpen has had a mini-turnaround. Collectively, Orioles relievers had a 9.51 ERA in the first seven games. In the past five, before last night, they had allowed three runs in 19 1/3 innings, just 11 hits, and struck out 17. (Of course, they haven't been perfect. Armando Benitez entered Tuesday's game with one out in the ninth, threw a 3-1 fastball to the first hitter he faced, Wes Chamberlain, and Chamberlain hit a bases-empty homer into the net to win the game.)
"I've had bad starts since 1991," Mills said. "I just try to tell myself each year, it's not going to be like that again."
He has another 130 games to make up for it.