CLEVELAND -- Baltimore Orioles rookie Mike Mussina doesn't like to lose. That much was written all over his face after the Cleveland Indians staged a ninth-inning comeback to score a 2-1 victory yesterday at Cleveland Stadium.
Mussina carried a three-hit shutout through eight innings, but gave up four hits in the ninth, including a squeeze bunt by Mark Lewis and a game-winning RBI double to Carlos Baerga.
The Orioles headed home from a 2-4 road trip to take on the Boston Red Sox in a three-game series that could have a significant impact on the American League East race. Mussina went home unhappy with himself, though he did nothing to dispel the notion that he is the most promising pitcher in the organization.
"That's nine of 10 times he has pitched the same way," manager John Oates said. "The kid has pitched great for us. I'd like to have had him pitching like this all year here."
That wouldn't have been prudent, of course. The Orioles made the right move when they sent Mussina to the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings for the first four months of the season. But there is no reason why he can't pitch full time in the rotation from Day 1 next year.
"I don't have to learn anything else," Oates said. "He belongs here, making 30-plus starts. It's between him and [Bob] Milacki to pitch Opening Day. They both have pitched very well."
The Orioles have never had reason to regret making Mussina their No. 1 pick in the 1990 amateur draft, and nothing happened yesterday to change that.
He retired the first 10 hitters he faced before Lewis lined a sharp single up the middle in the fourth inning. He gave up two singles in the fifth, then retired another 10 in a row before the game came apart in the ninth.
Pinch hitter Jerry Browne led off that inning with a base hit, and Wayne Kirby moved him up with a sacrifice bunt. Oates has gone to stopper Gregg Olson in similar situations all year, but he chose to let Mussina try to work his way out of trouble this time.
The game probably turned on the next at-bat. Alex Cole flared a single into left field that put runners at first and third with one out. It wasn't much of a hit, but it put the Indians in position for the squeeze bunt by Lewis that tied the game.
Baerga followed with a long line drive to right that landed well out of the reach of Joe Orsulak and brought Cole home from second base unchallenged.
Mussina second-guessed the pitch that sent him to his fifth defeat in nine decisions, even if no one else thought there was anything wrong with throwing a changeup to Baerga in that situation.
"I'm upset with myself because I didn't go with my best pitch in a big-out situation," Mussina said. "I've done that two or three times."
Rookie Jeff Tackett was behind the plate. He called the pitch, and he had logic on his side. The intent was to set up Baerga for the fastball, but he jumped all over the changeup.
"What we were doing was throwing that changeup and he was fouling it off," Tackett said. "We were hoping to get him to hook one foul again and then come in with the fastball, but he got out in front and hit it."
From an organizational standpoint, the wins and losses are not so important at this point in the season, but they are important to Mussina, who apparently isn't satisfied with just pitching well.
"I was hoping he [Oates] would give me a chance to finish," Mussina said. "I'm just disappointed in myself because I couldn't take advantage of it. I was truly terrible in the ninth inning. I've got a lot of work to do."
The Indians got strong pitching performances from Shawn Hillegas and former Oriole Eric Bell, who combined to give up just three singles.
Hillegas, who was making his first major-league start since 1989, gave up hits to the first two batters he faced and fell behind by a run before he got his first out. But he bounced back to retire 15 straight before giving way to Bell.
Brady Anderson led off the game with an infield hit and stole second base. He went to third on a single by Orsulak and scored when rookie third baseman Jim Thome dropped a potential double-play bouncer off the bat of Cal Ripken, who got credit for his 101st RBI of the season.
Orioles first: Anderson singled to third. Anderson stole second. Orsulak singled to center, Anderson to third. C.Ripken safe on third baseman Thome's fielding error, Anderson scored, Orsulak to second. Horn grounded out to first baseman Aldrete, Orsulak to third, C.Ripken to second. Milligan struck out. Ch.Martinez flied out to center fielder Cole. 1 run, 2 hits, 1 error, 2 left on. Orioles 1, Indians 0.
Indians ninth: Anderson to left field, batting 1st. Orsulak to right field, batting 2nd. Devereaux to center field, batting 6th. Browne, pinch hitting for Skinner, singled to left. Kirby sacrificed to first baseman Milligan, Browne to second. Cole singled to left, Browne to third. Lewis singled to second, Browne scored, Cole to second. Baerga doubled to right, Cole scored, Lewis to third. 2 runs, 4 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Indians 2, Orioles 1.