DETROIT -- Yesterday was Detroit starter Scott Aldred's 24th birthday and the 13th anniversary of Sparky Anderson's appointment as Tigers manager. But it was the Orioles who did the celebrating, as they moved back into first place on Mike Mussina's first career shutout.
Riding the long-ball bats of Leo Gomez and Chris Hoiles and the six-hit pitching of Mussina, the Orioles defeated the Tigers, 6-0, last night, improving their record against Detroit this year to 6-0.
The defeat made Anderson the losingest manager in Detroit history, but that's just part of the price of tenure. Anderson's 1,084-973 record puts him in position to replace Hughie Jennings (1,132-972) later this season as the winningest and losingest manager in club history.
The Orioles didn't reach any milestones, but their third straight win enabled them to gain an edge of four percentage points over the Toronto Blue Jays at the top of the American League East standings. The Blue Jays' four-game winning streak was broken with a 5-0 loss to the Boston Red Sox last night.
The Orioles, who have won five of their past six and 10 of 13, started out harmlessly against Aldred (2-6), but he unraveled in the fourth inning. He lost his control and the game, as two walks set up a five-run outburst.
Gomez did most of the damage with his fifth home run of the season -- and first career grand slam. Hoiles provided more offensive support with his 12th and 13th home runs, one off Aldred and the other off reliever Walt Terrell, to establish a career high in that department.
The fence-bashers did their jobs, and Mussina (8-1) calmly dispatched the Tigers. The 23-year old right-hander encountered only mild resistance.
The only thing remotely out of the ordinary was that Mussina needed 139 pitches to complete his gem. "He was still throwing the ball well," said manager Johnny Oates, who on Thursday said he preferred to keep his starters under 120 pitches.
"He threw the ball better the last three innings than he did the first three," added Oates. "But he threw it even better in the middle three innings."
Those three innings coincided with the five-run lead. The effort marked the eighth time in 11 appearances this year (and 16th time in 23 career starts) that Mussina had pitched into the eighth or later.
"Sure, it felt good," Mussina said of the shutout. "I've come close a few times before -- it feels good to finally get one."
His toughest battle may have been persuading Oates to let him finish. "I did a little negotiating in the late innings," said Mussina. "I threw a lot of pitches, but no way was I coming out.
That was my first really good chance for a shutout. After the eighth, Johnny asked me if I was OK. I told him, 'I'm all right, I'm going back out there.' "
Mussina had to dodge a couple of bullets in the first two innings before settling down. After Lou Whitaker's one-out double in the first, he got Travis Fryman to ground out and Cecil Fielder to fly out.
In the second, singles by Mickey Tettleton and Rob Deer sandwiched Dave Bergman's strikeout, leaving runners on first and second. But Scott Livingstone flied out and Milt Curley struck out, leaving the two runners stranded.
Aldred breezed through three innings before falling victim to a control lapse and the long ball, in that order. Cal Ripken's two-out single in the first and Bill Ripken's one-out single in the third was the Orioles' offense until they unloaded in the fourth.
Mike Devereaux started the uprising with a tricky high bouncer that went for an infield hit when shortstop Fryman was unable to make a clean back-handed pickup. Cal Ripken lined to left for the first out, but it was the last one Aldred would record.
The left-hander, who had not previously issued a walk, suddenly lost contact with home plate. Glenn Davis and Randy Milligan walked to load the bases and set the stage for Gomez.
Aldred regained control, throwing two quick strikes. However, Gomez swiped at a low-and-away offering and golfed it with one hand into the second deck in left field, giving the Orioles a 4-0 lead. It was the major-league-leading fourth grand slam for the Orioles -- Hoiles, Devereaux and Milligan with the others.
"He threw me a changeup, and I was looking for it," said Gomez. "He
had thrown me that pitch earlier on a 3-and-2 count, and I thought he might come back with it.
"It was down and away a little bit and I thought I might go the other way [to right field]," said Gomez, who seemed to jerk his bat on contact.
Right-hander Walt Terrell replaced Aldred and was greeted with a booming, 415-foot clout to right-center field by Hoiles, his 12th home run. It was the second time this year the Orioles connected for back-to-back homers. The same two players were involved May 1 against the Seattle Mariners, with Gomez following Hoiles in that game.
Two innings later, Hoiles connected again, this time sending a drive off the facing of the upper deck in left field. It was the second of only four hits Terrell allowed in his 5 1/3 innings.
With a sizable lead, Mussina did not let the Tigers advance a runner as far as third base. He retired the last six batters he faced and finished with six strikeouts and one walk while winning for the third straight time -- all since he was knocked out of two starts by a stomach virus.