Mussina gives Orioles whiff of fresh air

August 15, 1991|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Evening Sun Staff

For a marathon runner, a 10-K event is an adequate warmup for the real thing.

To a major-league pitcher, a 10-K effort is just another indicatioof a powerful performance -- unless his name is Nolan Ryan.

But for an Orioles pitcher of recent vintage, a 10-K outing isomething special.

Which is how the club would like to describe Mike Mussina fothe next decade or so -- something special.

Last year's No. 1 draft choice put his personal stamp on nexyear's starting rotation last night with a three-hit, 10-K (strikeout) performance. In the process, he claimed his first major-league win, 10-2, over the Texas Rangers as the Orioles won their fourth straight, matching their longest winning streak of the year.

The fact that Mussina's effort came against the Rangers, witthe best hitting lineup in baseball, made it even more impressive. The 10 K's were such a novelty it caused a research of the Orioles' scorebooks for the last four years.

What club officials discovered was that Mussina is only thsecond Orioles pitcher (Pete Harnisch is the other) to reach double-K figures since Bob Milacki did it on Sept. 29, 1988. In between the Orioles played 440 games -- a period that equals almost three full seasons.

In that time span, Ryan has reached or surpassed the same count 31 times, while Mussina and Harnisch (June 6, 1990 against the Yankees) are the only Orioles to punch out as many as 10 batters in a game.

Making his third start since being summoned from RochesterMussina (1-2) dominated the game after allowing a two-run home run to Juan Gonzalez in the first inning. He allowed only one more hit (a bunt single by Gary Pettis in the third) before leaving after the eighth inning.

was one of those games you'd like to pitch forever," said Mussina, "but I wish it [his first win] had come in the first start instead of the third. This was another situation where they [the Rangers] didn't know much about me.

"I'm getting more acclimated and I was able to mix up mpitches," said Mussina, whose first two starts (both losses) were against the Chicago White Sox. He'll be tested again the next time out because his next start will come Monday night -- in Texas.

"When you can throw 90 mph at the knees and on the corneryou're going to get some strikeouts," said catcher Bob Melvin, who also caught Mussina's debut game, a 1-0 loss. "He had real good velocity and he's able to throw his other pitches [curve and changeup] when he's behind in the count. He'll be around for a while."

In the manager's office, John Oates marveled not at thstrikeouts, but at the composure displayed by the rookie. "When we had our pitching meeting in here before the game, he sat there and knew exactly what he wanted to do," said Oates. "Then he went out and did it.

"I just like watching him pitch. I see something that tells me hknows what he wants to do. I even got a little smile when he walked out to the mound," said Oates. "I'm not sure who he reminds me of more, Jim Palmer or Mike Boddicker. Something about him reminds me of both guys."

That's pretty heady stuff for a rookie to hear, but Mussinappears unfazed by it all. "I just try to keep doing what I've been able to do to get me this far," he said. "I still have to learn to pitch. It took 19 starts at Triple A, plus the ones last year, to get to this point."

His biggest challenge came in the third inning, after the Oriolehad tied the score 2-2 on the first of two Chito Martinez home runs. Pettis reached second with nobody out after Juan Bell's throwing error on the bunt single.

Mussina was asked what he was thinking in that situation. "Whahappened?" he asked. "I can't remember."

What happened was that Rafael Palmeiro flied to center, witPettis going to third base, bringing Ruben Sierra to the plate. "I threw him a changeup and he almost came out of his shoes swinging," said Mussina.

The first-pitch changeup was popped to shortstop Cal Ripkeand then Gonzalez struck out on a high fastball. The pitch to Sierra, perhaps, says something about Mussina.

He has a very good changeup, a pitch he relies on often. But iwas that pitch that Gonzalez hit for his 21st homer in the first inning, following a single by Sierra.

"It was an ugly one -- just like the one to [Frank] Thomas," saiMussina. Thomas' home run was the only run allowed by the righthander in his first start, and even though Gonzalez connected on the pitch in the first inning, Mussina used the changeup to retire Sierra in a difficult situation.

"You try to stay reserved, and not get too excited," said Oatesno doubt thinking of the expectations that have been placed on Ben McDonald. "But I see a lot of things I like."

Mussina, too, saw a lot of things he liked last night -- runs. Hhad a 7-2 lead after three and the Orioles scored in each of the first five innings. Cal Ripken had a pair of doubles and three runs batted in after three innings, Martinez had a single to go with his two homers (Nos. 6 and 7) and Leo Gomez chipped in with his eighth homer of the season.

"That was one of those games where no managing is involved,said Oates. "You watch the hitters hit and your pitcher pitch. I'd like about 100 of those a year."

The way things have gone for the Orioles this year, one a weewould've been nice.

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