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Milton Finds Paradise Won in No-Hitter

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Angels broke out the drill bits and hard hats for another excavation job Saturday, burrowing their way to such extreme depths that not even Indiana Jones could find these guys.

The latest low in their season-long temple of gloom came when Minnesota Twin left-hander Eric Milton, who entered Saturday’s game with a 6-11 record, tossed what had to be one of baseball’s most effortless no-hitters in a 7-0 victory over the Angels before 11,222 in the Metrodome.

Milton, relying almost exclusively on a fastball that topped out at 92 mph, had a career-high 13 strikeouts. He walked two and didn’t give up anything close to a hit, breezing through an Angel lineup that was even more obscure than Minnesota’s.

The Twins may field the best triple-A team in the major leagues, but they were not to be outdone Saturday by the Angels, whose starting nine--Jeff DaVanon, Orlando Palmeiro, Todd Greene, Troy Glaus, Steve Decker, Matt Luke, Bret Hemphill, Trent Durrington and Andy Sheets--looked more suited for a Cactus League split-squad game in Peoria, Ariz.

A no-hitter for Eric Milton? Heck, Uncle Milton could have shut down this club.

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And how’s this for astonishing: While a lineup that included five players who spent significant time in the minor leagues this year and one who was hurt most of the season flailed away at Milton’s less-than-baffling offerings--showing little or no discipline at the plate--Mo Vaughn, Tim Salmon, Jim Edmonds, Garret Anderson, Darin Erstad and Gary DiSarcina sat on the bench.

Not one regular was asked to loosen up for a possible pinch-hit appearance. Not one entered the game, which ended with Durrington, Sheets and DaVanon making the final outs, the Twins mobbing Milton on the mound after he blew a fastball by DaVanon for strike three.

“If the game was closer and we had a chance to win I would have used those guys, and as the game progressed, I would have given them time to get loose,” said Joe Maddon, the Angels’ interim manager.

“I just wanted to go with that lineup all the way through. I didn’t want guys who were sitting around all day to have to get loose. [Breaking up the no-hitter] wasn’t an issue for me.”

It was for at least one Angel regular, who considered the no-hitter a slap in the face.

“You don’t want to see your team get no-hit,” Vaughn said. “It’s a frustrating thing, whether you’re in the game or not. All of us were in the dugout, watching after the fifth inning . . . you don’t want that to happen.

“I don’t care what the score is, we’re getting no-hit. I guess he decided we were going to get the day off. . . . It’s amazing some of the things you see in this game.”

Salmon, though, came to Maddon’s defense.

“I’m done second-guessing--I’m all for what he did,” Salmon said of Maddon. “It’s September, we’re out of it, give these guys a chance to play and stick with them, see if they could break it up themselves. It would have been easy to go to the starters, but he stuck to his guns. More power to him.”

Edmonds pleaded with reporters not to “make it a managerial issue,” but even Salmon had to admit Maddon’s decision left him open to criticism.

“What made [the no-hitter] more strange was it was against our B squad,” Salmon said. “I hope it doesn’t discourage them from playing these guys more . . . but maybe not all at once.”

Twin catcher Terry Steinbach, in a show of diplomacy, said a lineup of irregulars can sometimes cause as many problems as the regulars.

“I’ve seen Mo, Salmon and Edmonds hit a lot--you kind of know what they’ve hit in the past and what they’re thinking,” Steinbach said. “You take a young lineup, you go over the scouting reports . . . we had nothing. It took me 20 seconds to get through the reports. You look at them and say, ‘This isn’t going to help.’ ”

So instead of attacking potential Angel weaknesses, Milton went with his strength, which was a fastball that he spotted on both corners and rarely threw over the middle of the plate. Of Milton’s 125 pitches, Steinbach said about 10 were curveballs, two were changeups and the rest fastballs. So, the Angels were essentially no-hit by a one-pitch pitcher.

Milton, 24, a former first-round pick who was acquired from the New York Yankees in the Chuck Knoblauch trade, faced only 28 batters, one over the minimum, and he retired the last 18 Angels. He walked Palmeiro in the first and DaVanon in the third, but DaVanon was thrown out trying to steal.

The only hint of a possible Angel hit came when Decker hit a fly ball to the wall in left in the fifth and Hemphill hit a broken-bat infield looper that second baseman Cleatus Davidson made a nice running catch of near the mound in the eighth.

Milton threw 18 first-pitch strikes and had seven 0-2 counts.

“I’m pretty numb right now,” said Milton, who has thrown two complete-game shutouts against the Angels this season. “This is probably the greatest day of my life. I’m overwhelmed.”

The game started two hours earlier than a normal day game to accommodate Saturday night’s college football game between Minnesota and Louisiana Monroe, but that didn’t change Milton’s pregame routine much.

“I couldn’t really sleep [Friday] night, I was tossing and turning, but that’s usual for me the nights before I pitch,” Milton said. “I come to the park thinking, ‘Try to pitch my game, get it over with and you’ll have the rest of the day to relax.’ ”

Instead, Milton had the rest of the day to celebrate the 211th no-hitter in major league history, the fourth no-hitter in Twin history and the seventh against the Angels, the last being Kenny Rogers’ perfect game for the Texas Rangers on July 28, 1994.

It was an accomplishment Milton will cherish forever, but baseball might want to put an asterisk next to his gem.

After all, it was a no-hitter against a lineup of no-hitters.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Not Seventh Heaven

Eric Milton, who Saturday became the fourth Minnesota Twin to pitch a no-hitter, recorded the seventh no-hitter against the Angels:

* Earl Wilson, Boston, 2-0, June 26, 1962

* Vida Blue, Glenn Abbott, Paul Lindblad and Rollie Fingers, Oakland, 5-0, Sept. 28, 1975

* Dennis Eckersley, Cleveland, 1-0, May 30, 1977

* Bert Blyleven, Texas, 6-0, Sept. 22, 1977

* Joe Cowley, Chicago, 7-1, Sept. 19, 1986

* x-Kenny Rogers, Texas, 4-0, July 28, 1994

* Eric Milton, Minnesota, 7-0, Sept. 11, 1999

x-perfect game

*

NEW YORK: 6

DODGERS: 2

Piazza has perfect night: four for four with homer and walk.

Page 4

NEWHAN ON AL

Maddon should have used veterans as pinch-hitters. Page 6

NEWHAN ON NL

Piazza talk makes Dodgers look bad again. Page 6


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