The temperatures are falling. The leaves will be turning soon. The 1991 baseball season is drawing to a close. And the Baltimore Orioles finally are getting hot.
Right-hander Mike Mussina gave up six hits over seven innings last night, as the Orioles scored a 4-2 victory and swept a three-game series from the New York Yankees.
"When you get the hits at the right times and you pitch well and you make the plays -- when you do all that, you look good," manager John Oates said. "It's important for us to put together some type of streak. We need to do the best we can to get back as close to .500 as we can."
The Yankees were paying their final respects to Memorial Stadium,but they were unable to make a respectable showing. The Orioles handed them their sixth straight loss and swept them at home for the first time since 1982.
Mussina, who was facing the Yankees for the first time, registered his first victory since he defeated the Minnesota Twins on Aug. 25 and improved his record to 3-4. He got help from veteran Mike Flanagan and stopper Gregg Olson, who worked out of a bases-loaded jam to record his 27th save.
The Orioles youth movement marches on, but Mussina's offensive support was supplied by a couple of veterans who don't really know where they fit into the club's future.
Outfielder Joe Orsulak got the Orioles on the scoreboard with a two-run homer, and Sam Horn provided the margin of victory with his 20th home run of the year. Both appear likely to be back with the club in 1992, but the changing chemistry of the team has to leave them uncertain of their roles next year.
There is no doubt about Mussina, who has established himself as a member of the starting rotation. He has pitched into the sixth inning or later in seven of his eight major-league starts and has given up two runs or fewer in five of those seven.
"I'm fortunate that they [opposing hitters] don't really know that much about me," Mussina said. "This is my first time around the league, and they probably need to see me a couple of times to get comfortable. I've tried to use that to my advantage."
If there was any question about his place in the rotation next year, he has dismissed it the way he dismissed the first nine Yankees he faced last night. But he isn't ready to write himself onto the 1992 roster just yet.
"I'm here," he said, "but I don't know if I've arrived. I'm one of the five guys in the rotation who get to go out and throw. If I pitch well enough to stay and I pitch every fifth day for a few years, that would be great. If I just pitch for two months, at least I've been here."
Last night, he was overpowering while his teammates were building a four-run lead in the early innings, but allowed the Yankees to sneak back into the game with a run in the fourth and another in the fifth.
Mussina retired the first nine batters he faced before Steve Sax led off the fourth inning with a single to right field. After Bernie Williams forced Sax at second, Matt Nokes hit a single to center, and Williams ended up at third when the ball caromed off a charging Mike Devereaux for an error. Roberto Kelly brought home the unearned run with a long fly ball to center field.
The Yankees scored again on three hits in the fifth, which began with a leadoff infield single by Hensley Meulens but didn't develop into anything until after there were two out. Pat Kelly kept the inning alive with a single to left, and Sax delivered a run-scoring double into the left-field corner.
Mussina was fortunate to have the offensive support to withstand the modest, middle-inning assault. Orsulak, who had missed a couple of starts with a sore shoulder, homered with a man aboard in the second inning. Horn followed suit in the third with another two-run homer off Yankees starter Wade Taylor.
It was Horn's fourth homer in 12 at-bats and his 20th overall. He ranks near the top of the American League in home-run ratio with one every 13.9 at-bats and ranks high among the league's left-handed hitters in home runs, even though he is only a part-time player.
"I think for a guy to hit 20 home runs as a part-time player is pretty good," Horn said. "I just hope they see that as an indication that the more at-bats, the more production."
He was in the starting lineup for every game of the series against the Yankees and made a significant contribution every night.
He has driven in at least one run in five of his past six games.