Barb Milton recognized the face. The mannerisms were familiar, too. She knew that was her son pitching at Camden Yards yesterday, but it still seemed so improbable.
"It's like, 'This can't be my kid,' " she said.
It was, and except for two pitches the afternoon couldn't have gone much better for Eric Milton, the University of Maryland alumnus who was making his sixth major-league start. Bases-empty home runs by Rafael Palmeiro and Eric Davis were all that separated the young left-hander from Orioles ace Mike Mussina in the Twins' 2-0 loss.
Mussina was so good, even Milton's older brother, Ernie, stood to applaud when he left in the eighth inning. But Eric made it through to the end, retiring 14 of the last 15 batters for a four-hitter and his first complete game.
"That was an old-fashioned pitchers' duel and a fun game for the purists," Twins manager Tom Kelly said. "Milton pitched a whale of a game for us. You can't ask for much more than what he gave us."
He'd like to have the two fastballs back that Palmeiro and Davis launched, if only to put them in the same locations again. Catcher Terry Steinbach set the target down and in to Palmeiro )) in the second inning, and away to Davis in the seventh. Both times, Milton located them perfectly. Only the results were flawed.
"Those home runs weren't mistakes. They were right where I wanted to put them and they hit them out. I tip my hat to them," said Milton, 22, who pitched in Double-A last year before being traded by the New York Yankees over the winter in the Chuck Knoblauch deal.
"That's what I wanted to throw and I was 100 percent behind them."
Milton swept his foot over the mound after Palmeiro's liner had cleared the scoreboard in right, the fourth homer he's allowed to a left-handed batter this season. He stared into the outfield when Davis reached the seats in right before turning to wait for a new ball. He then got Palmeiro looking for his only strikeout.
"You can't dwell on it," said Milton, who walked only one. "It was a good game. [Mussina] just pitched a better one. There's not much I could do. I had my stuff every inning I went out there. I felt great the whole game."
Milton estimated that he had 60 friends and family members in attendance. "His wife said he was worried about everybody watching," Barb said. "I don't know if he was nervous. He never shows it."
"Maybe in the days leading up to it," Milton said, "but not today. I was focused."
His parents drove from their home in Bellefonte, Pa., as they did for his debut in Minnesota April 5, when he tossed six shutout innings to defeat Kansas City. Milton also won his next start, but has lost three straight decisions, including a rough outing last week against Texas when he threw 112 pitches in five innings.
Since then, he rediscovered his cutter while throwing in the bull- pen, mixing it nicely yesterday with his fastball, curve and changeup. "This was the best I've pitched all year. I had everything working. I don't regret anything," he said.
"I can't give enough credit to that kid today," Orioles manager Ray Miller said. "He's pitching in front of all his family members and he was pumped up. Whatever he was doing sure had us in between."
"He pitched good," Palmeiro added. "He knew what to do."
While Milton dressed in front of his locker before accompanying the Twins to Boston, his parents prepared to return to Bellefonte. His father, Cecil, wore a Twins cap. So did Ernie, who also had a Maryland sweatshirt pulled over a USA baseball T-shirt from his brother's unsuccessful bid to make the Olympic team in 1996. "I get all his hand-me-downs," he said.
Barb Milton wore the same look of disbelief.
"We waited so long for this," she said, "and now that it's here, it's still so unreal."
Pub Date: 5/04/98