CLEVELAND -- So much for an easy week in Stiffville.
The Orioles returned home last night a little worse for their whereabouts, even though they spent the past seven days in two of the gulags of the American League.
The Cleveland Indians came from behind yesterday to score a 3-2 victory and take the deciding game of the three-game series at Cleveland Stadium. It was also the deciding game of the road trip, which ended with the Orioles losing four of seven games.
Indians right-hander Charles Nagy gave up 13 hits, but he went the distance and recorded his ninth victory of the year with a resourceful performance that left a seemingly more effective Mike Mussina 0-for-Ohio.
Mussina gave up just five hits over seven innings, but a quick three-run outburst in the sixth inning sent him to his second defeat in two career starts in Cleveland. The last time he pitched here -- in September -- he worked a strong 8 1/3 innings but dropped a 2-1 decision.
"If you told me that we were getting 13 hits and they were getting five, I'd go out there and play," Mussina said. "But if you told me it was in Cleveland, I don't know. I've pitched 14 innings here and I've been scored on in two of them and I'm 0-2. Things happen."
Things happened fast. He took a two-hit bid into the sixth and gave up three straight hits to open the inning. The Orioles were leading 2-0 at the time, but Kenny Lofton led off with a single and Thomas Howard broke up the shutout bid with a run-scoring double to center. Carlos Baerga was right behind him, lining a double down the right-field line to tie the game.
The Indians earned their third run of the inning, but they got it for free -- if that makes any sense. Albert Belle, the most dangerous hitter in their lineup, laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Baerga to third. Mussina did the rest, bouncing a curveball to the screen to bring home the eventual winning run.
"They just jump up and get me at the wrong time," said Mussina. "I've thrown three wild pitches and they have all been in the two games I've lost. It was just one of those pitches. Chris [Hoiles] has blocked it 100 times. It just bounced to the right instead of straight. It just saved them the trouble of squeezing the guy in. They have used that very effectively in this series."
True, the Indians squeezed home two runs in Tuesday night's game, but they were both by the No. 2 hitter in the lineup (Howard). First baseman Paul Sorrento didn't seem like a strong candidate for such a risky play.
Nagy, who pitched a more impressive game and lost to Rick Sutcliffe on Opening Day at Camden Yards, was in trouble early and often. He gave up a double to Mike Devereaux and an RBI single to Cal Ripken in the top of the first and had to pitch out of trouble in each of the next two innings.
He was overpowering for a brief period in the middle innings, striking out five of seven batters at one stretch, but he did not frighten anyone in the Orioles lineup. Only Randy Milligan and Leo Gomez failed to get a hit against him.
"We had our chances," manager Johnny Oates said. "Oh, did we have our chances. We just didn't capitalize on them today. It was just one of those days when we seemed to get all the hits after there were two outs."
The Orioles also helped Nagy out with a couple of routine double-play balls in the late innings. He gave up a run in the sixth and seemed to be struggling in the seventh, but Sam Horn went first-ball swinging and got him off the hook in a hurry.
"I've seen him [Nagy] throw three times and that's the least I've seen him have," Oates said. "He was hit-able. Obviously. We got 13 hits. The other two times he had better stuff."
Nagy's tenacious performance made the difference between a good road trip and a bad one for the Orioles, who opened with two victories in Detroit only to lose four of the last five games. If Mussina could have won yesterday, they still would have come back above .500 for the trip, but instead must regroup against the New York Yankees this weekend at Oriole Park.
If the trip seemed like an opportunity for the then-streaking Orioles to get fat on a couple of the worst teams in baseball, it probably was. But the club fell victim to its own struggling bullpen and may have been fortunate to get out of Cleveland without being swept.
Oates has been hesitant to put the focus on individual opponents or series, but he conceded that the environment appeared to be right for continued success.
"If you play Cleveland and Detroit as opposed to Toronto and Minnesota, before leaving you've got to say, sure, our odds are better," Oates said, "but it doesn't always work out that way. Last night, a guy who was 1-7 went against a guy who was 7-3 and look how it turned out. It's useless to play what-if. We could have been 0-7 on this trip and we could have been 7-0."
The 1-4 ending to the trip is not the worst streak of the season. The Orioles lost four straight, five of six and eight of 11 during a 12-day period from May 17 to May 29. If this is a mini-slump, Oates chose not to include yesterday's game among the tough losses.
"I thought we played well," he said. "We just didn't hit when we had people on base. We did everything today that produces a win. We just didn't hit in the clutch."