CLEVELAND -- Catcher Jeff Tackett thought it was a good pitch. Manager John Oates said he had no quarrel with the selection.
Pitcher Mike Mussina, who threw the ball and suffered the consequences, disagreed with both.
The Orioles had just suffered another frustrating one-run loss, a 2-1 decision to the lowly Cleveland Indians that was decided in the ninth inning. Mussina had taken a three-hit shutout into that last inning and was unforgiving of himself that the Indians added four more hits while scoring two runs in their final at-bat.
And he was particularly disturbed that the pitch that produced the winning run was a changeup that Carlos Baerga hit over the head of rightfielder Joe Orsulak.
fTC "I guess I went to the well once too often," said Mussina. "I didn't go with my best pitch and I've done that too many times -- it's stupid."
On at least two other occasions in his brief major-league career, Mussina has questioned his use of the changeup in critical situations.
And there was no consolation for the rookie righthander that he pitched a strong game for the ninth time in 10 starts, or that he did even more than what could reasonably be expected of him. He definitely doesn't believe the theory that all a starter is supposed to do is keep his team in the game until the sixth inning.
"You're supposed to go nine innings," said Mussina (4-5), who tends to be overly critical of himself when he loses. "Tack [Tackett] called a great game," said Mussina. "But when it came to crunch time I had to make the pitches and I didn't do it."
Tackett and Oates thought Mussina was being too hard on himself.
"I thought it was a good pitch," said Tackett. "He [Baerga] just went down and got it -- he was out in front just enough to get the barrel on it."
Even though Mussina had thrown Baerga a changeup on the first pitch (a foul ball), Oates didn't agree that Mussina "went to the well once too often."
"You don't fix the wagon if it's not broke," said Oates. "Baerga hadn't handled that pitch all day. Why would you change until he showed he could hit it?
"If he'd gotten a hit earlier -- or now that he's gotten one -- you might have to make an adjustment. But until then, there's no reason why you shouldn't throw him the pitch."
Just as he wouldn't question the pitch, Oates had no doubt about staying with Mussina in that final inning. The winning rally featured a couple of "seeing eye" singles sandwiched around a sacrifice bunt, a squeeze bunt for a single that tied the game, and Baerga's game-winner.
And, although he had no qualms about the way Mussina was throwing, at least part of Oates' reasoning centered on the opposition's penchant for stealing bases against relief ace Gregg Olson. "I didn't want Gregg in there for the bunt," said Oates, "and once [Alex Cole] got his hit, he [Mussina] was in there to stay."
Pinch hitter Jerry Browne had opened the inning with a sharp ground single past third baseman Leo Gomez, who was hugging the line, guarding against an extra-base hit. After the bunt, Cole lofted a soft single to left, advancing Browne to third.
"I'd rather have him pitching with runners on first and third, rather than Olson with runners on second and third," said Oates, conceding a potential stolen base if he made a pitching change.
That, however, wasn't the only reason Mussina stayed in the game. He was the only reason the Orioles were in the hunt to begin with, and Oates felt he deserved to be there when the
issue was decided, win or lose. "I felt very comfortable with him finishing the game," said Oates.
The manager dismissed the notion that he left Mussina in to see how he would handle such a situation. "I don't have to see anything else," Oates said emphatically. "He doesn't have to learn anything else. He's ready to pitch right here and make 30-35 starts next year. It's between him and [Bob] Milacki who will be pitching Opening Day ."
In another corner of the locker room, Mussina wasn't nearly as satisfied with his performance. "I had a lead and I didn't put it away," he said disgustedly.
It wasn't quite that simple, but Mussina has only one measuring stick when it comes to judging his performance. The only thing that matters is whether he allowed fewer runs than his team scored.
=1 His attitude is as admirable as his ability.