Mussina's usual is too special for Tigers in 6-1 win 8-inning effort adds to consistent numbers

April 19, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

There's a reason most people choose the same restaurant or supermarket or brand of car over and over again, rather than experimenting with something new.

That reason is consistency, and that kind of dependable performance from one start to the next is what the Orioles are getting from Mike Mussina.

Take yesterday's 6-1 win over the Detroit Tigers before a sellout crowd of 45,701, the latest record attendance at Oriole Park. Mussina never looked brilliant, occasionally looked ragged, but always looked and performed as though he intended to win, or at least keep the Orioles in the game.

And so he did.

"I'm going to get my share [of wins], as long as I hang around until the seventh or eighth inning. Then, they [the bullpen] will do the job," said Mussina.

Seeing the same old Mussina show over and over again is hardly boring to Orioles manager Johnny Oates.

"He's like the same pitcher I saw the first time I saw him throw," Oates said. "I've seen the guy pitch 20 times now, and he's pitched great 19 of them.

"Consistency," Oates said. "That's how you stay in the big leagues. Once a week for an offensive player and once every six starts for a pitcher doesn't get it done."

Mussina, who won in his first start at Oriole Park after getting a no-decision on April 10 in a 4-3 loss in Toronto, has certainly been getting it done since he was called up from the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings last July 31.

The 23-year-old right-hander has allowed two runs or fewer in his past eight starts, and has been roughed up only once in his major-league career, a 7-4 loss to the Chicago White Sox last Aug. 9, where he was yanked in the fourth inning. In 10 of his 14 major-league starts, he has allowed two runs or fewer.

Yesterday, Mussina scattered seven hits and one run over eight innings before yielding to Gregg Olson in the ninth. He is learning that to be effective, he doesn't necessarily have to have Ben McDonald's heat or Olson's curve, but the sense to make the right pitch at the right time.

"My stuff was about fair, but I got some key outs and the guys gave me great defense and that's what counted," said Mussina (1-0), who threw 106 pitches.

Nowhere was his composure and sense of timing more tested than the Detroit fifth, where he faced the dictionary definition of a tight spot, at least for American League pitchers.

Detroit had runners on second and third with one out, and then Mussina faced Cecil Fielder with the bases loaded and two out. Mussina escaped, giving up just one run.

Tigers shortstop Travis Fryman led off the inning with a single to left, and third baseman Scott Livingstone moved him to third with another single to left.

Center fielder Milt Cuyler pushed a bunt past Mussina, and although Fryman broke back to the bag, the bunt was placed well enough to score him on the play.

After Dan Gladden sacrificed the runners ahead, Mussina caught another break when Lou Whitaker slapped a grounder to first. Randy Milligan threw home and Tackett tagged out Livingstone.

Mussina wasn't out of trouble yet. He walked Tony Phillips, bringing Fielder, who had 95 homers the past two seasons and leads the major leagues with 12 RBI this year, to the plate with the bases loaded.

"I could tell you that I meant to walk that guy [Phillips] to get to Fielder, but I would be lying," said Mussina.

But the Stanford graduate got Fielder to hit into a force at third on the first pitch, a knuckle-curve, and the danger was averted.

"Give Mike credit. He had the most productive hitter in the American League in that situation. You don't have any room for mistake," said Oates. "The kid made the pitch when he had to."

The run broke a 26-inning streak where Orioles pitchers had not allowed a run at Camden Yards, but Mussina seemed grateful that the damage wasn't worse.

"You always have that one tough inning that you have to get through," he said. "I was out there telling myself to stay calm."

From there, Mussina, who hadn't pitched in eight days, settled down, allowing just two hits and a walk, striking out three before Olson took over in the ninth.

He was helped by Baltimore bats, which for the second straight game, came alive in the late innings.

The Orioles, who had been checked early by Detroit starter Frank Tanana, pieced together two runs in the sixth, two more in the seventh and another run in the eighth, off catcher Chris Hoiles' blast to center, the longest home run hit in the ballpark's five-game history.

Tanana, who got the last win in Memorial Stadium last October, )) pitched well for five innings, limiting the Orioles to just one run -- a bases-empty home run by rookie catcher Jeff Tackett leading off the third -- until the sixth when his control failed him and he gave up two runs on two hits and two walks.

"I have no problem with the way Frank pitched, but that kid [Mussina] was outstanding," said Detroit manager Sparky Anderson. "He should have been had in the fifth, but he escaped. That's pitching."

) Nope. That's consistency.

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