Mussina shows slump out of control

JOHN EISENBERG

May 21, 1992|By JOHN EISENBERG

You knew it was time to get the A's out of town when the Orioles started giving up runs on Mike Mussina's wild pitches.

The world can still seem a reasonably ordered place when you lose to the A's on home runs by Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco and Rickey Henderson, as the Orioles did in the first two games of this series. These things happen when you play the A's.

But when Mussina started throwing wild pitches that kept giving the A's the lead last night, you knew the Orioles' first losing streak of 1992 was more than just the A's. You knew it was a bad moon rising. A bona fide funk.

You knew it was time to get the A's out of here, take a day off, change the atmosphere at Camden Yards and pretend these three games never happened. "Yeah," manager John Oates said after the 4-2 loss last night, the Orioles' fourth in a row, "it's time to look at some new uniforms."

You could have said it was just the A's, but then Mussina started throwing balls off the backstop.

That ranks dead last on the Orioles' official 1992 list of potential reasons for losing. OK, maybe it's next-to-last behind hitting into nine triple plays, but you get the idea. Win a long-odds shot like this one and you come home from the racetrack with your pockets full.

It's just that Mussina has this tendency to deliver the ball exactly where the catcher wants it. His control is no less than sensational. You want it high and inside, it's there. Low and away, it's there. He had but 12 walks in 52 innings this year, and had thrown three wild pitches in his first 139 innings as an Oriole, dating to last year. Then there was last night.

On the field before the game, Rick Sutcliffe was chatting up Charles Barkley and Mike Devereaux was signing a pennant for the governor of Wyoming -- we couldn't make this stuff up, could we? -- and the stands were full again and the Orioles were still in first place on a cool, blue night, and you couldn't help thinking you were at the center of the universe. Mussina, with his 5-0 record, had the stage.

He gave up a Rickey run in the first, then settled into a familiar, stingy groove. His fourth was a Picasso: Canseco on a nubber to the mound, Baines and McGwire looking. Even when the A's put runners on first and third with two outs, it appeared Mussina would escape, getting two strikes on Henderson.

But then he threw a pitch that landed in the dirt in front of the plate and bounced past catcher Chris Hoiles. The runner on third scored, giving the A's a 2-1 lead. Henderson popped out two pitches later.

"Basically," Mussina said, "I gave them the run."

The Orioles got it back in the bottom of the inning on a Brady Anderson homer, and had a chance to score more. Glenn Davis came up with one out and runners on first and third, and popped up the first pitch. Randy Milligan grounded out.

The Orioles also left the bases loaded in the first. "We had a chance to knock out [Oakland starter Bob] Welch and let him off the hook," Oates said.

Anyway, then it was a 2-2 game into the seventh and you had to like the Orioles' chances. Mussina had allowed only four base runners all night, and had Canseco, McGwire and Baines discombobulated. "I thought he pitched pretty well," Oates said.

But two singles put runners on first and second with one out, and then, bam, another pitch got by Hoiles and caromed off the backstop. The runners advanced, and one pitch later Mike Bordick hit a sacrifice fly that drove in the winning run. Another single made it 4-2, and Mussina had his first loss of the season.

"It's obviously frustrating to lose on wild pitches like that," he said. "I don't like doing it. It just jumped up and hit me at the wrong time. Bad timing."

Bad moon rising. The Orioles began this series with the best record in the major leagues and ended it in second place in AL East. That's no reason to cry, not when the team was picked to finish fourth and already has infused this season with more life than anyone ever expected. Still, it was time to end this series, which smelled wrong from the first inning.

"We did a lot of things right in the first 35 games of this season," Oates said, "and I think the [streak of playing well] will continue. Boy, I sure hope it isn't ending here. If it is, whew, it's going to be a long season.

"But these are the things that happen in a season. We were on a pace to win 110 games. I don't how many we can win, but . . . when we were going good, it always seemed like we got a hit or a home run or a double play when we needed it. Now the same things are happening to us."

Strange things. Crazy things. Like wild pitches when you least expect them.

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