The Baltimore Orioles have turned almost entirely to the promise of youth, and -- finally -- they are beginning to see that promise kept.
Rookie right-hander Mike Mussina held the Texas Rangers to three hits over eight innings on the way to his first major-league victory, and rookie outfielder Chito Martinez hit two home runs, as the Orioles scored a 10-2 victory last night at Memorial Stadium.
That's four straight victories, and all of them at home for the club that began the week with the worst home record in baseball.
Mussina (1-2) overpowered the Rangers, setting an Orioles season high with 10 strikeouts. He gave up two hits in the first inning, then held the Rangers to a bunt single over the next seven before turning over the game over to newly recalled
reliever Jose Bautista in the ninth.
"I'm feeling a lot more acclimated to the strike zone and to having a lot of fans in the stands," Mussina said. "I'm just glad it wasn't Chicago again. It was nice to go up there and not see Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura. It's easier when they don't know you."
It was only the second time in the past 440 Orioles games that a Baltimore pitcher has struck out 10 or more. Pete Harnisch was the other, striking out 10 New York Yankees on June 9, 1990.
"I'm not sure who he reminds me of more, either Jim Palmer or Mike Boddicker," manager John Oates said. "There's something about him that reminds me of those two guys."
Mussina threw 128 pitches before Oates decided to give the final inning to Bautista. The complete game was there for the taking, but that particular statistic is not high on the Orioles' priority list at this point.
"I don't think he had thrown more than 118 this year," Oates said. "I didn't want him struggling and I didn't want to punish him."
The first victory is supposed to be the sweetest, but Mussina did not seem overly excited about it.
"It's nice," he said, "but I wish it had been the first game instead of the third one. I've got to get a few more in."
Martinez had three hits to raise his average to .327, which ranks him first among American League rookies with at least 100 at-bats. His two homers led an 11-hit Orioles attack that pushed the Rangers to the brink of a four-game sweep. Rookie third baseman Leo Gomez also homered to aid the assault on the Texas pitching staff.
The Orioles youth movement already had taken another step forward yesterday afternoon, when the club summoned right-hander Jose Mesa from the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings to rejoin the rotation tonight. But the more immediate concern centered on Mussina, who had taken a beating in his second major-league start Friday night.
There was room to wonder how he would rebound after giving up 11 hits and five runs to the Chicago White Sox in 3 1/3 innings, and Mussina kept everyone wondering in the first inning when he gave up a two-run homer to left fielder Juan Gonzalez. But he quickly settled down to strike out five through the first three innings while his teammates hammered away at Rangers starter Gerald Alexander.
Mike Devereaux led off the bottom of the first with a walk and scored on a one-out double by Cal Ripken. Martinez led off the second with a game-tying home run -- his sixth of the season. Ripken gave Mussina the lead in the third with a two-run double to right-center, and the Orioles went on to break open the game with a five-run bat-around.
Joe Orsulak drove in a run with a base hit to center, and Martinez zTC knocked Alexander out of the game with a one-out single to right. Wayne Rosenthal came on to walk Leo Gomez and get Bob Melvin on a pop-up to short, but Juan Bell pulled a two-run double down the right-field line to give the Orioles a 7-2 advantage.
All the while, a steady drizzle fell and threatened to wash out the game. The umpires suspended play briefly in the third to allow the grounds crew to spread sand on some areas that were getting particularly soggy, but the show went on.
Ripken continues to rebound from a five-week slide that cost him the top spot in the American League batting ranks. His average slipped 34 points between July 1 and Aug. 5, but he has rebounded with five multiple-hit performances in his past 10 games.
It has been a big week at Memorial Stadium. The Orioles won more home games in a 52-hour span (four) than they won in the previous three weeks (15 home games). The four-game home winning streak equals the club's longest of the season.
The Rangers never seem to wear out their welcome here. They have baseball's worst all-time record against the Orioles (86-138) and are 14-41 at Memorial Stadium since August 1982.
Site: Memorial Stadium
Rangers starter: Oil Can Boyd (0-3, 6.86)
Orioles starter: Jose Mesa (4-8, 5.75)
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)