MINNEAPOLIS -- The Orioles apparently enjoy a challenge. Just last week, they went to Milwaukee and cooled off the streaking Brewers. Just last night, they went to the Metrodome and did the same to the red-hot Minnesota Twins.
The Twins were riding the crest of a six-game winning streak and they had just come home from the West Coast with a share of the American League West lead. To make matters worse, they had a starting pitcher on the mound -- John Smiley -- who had not lost a game in six weeks.
That apparently didn't mean a whole lot to Mike Mussina and Mike Devereaux, who led the Orioles to a 6-1 victory in the first game of a three-game series that both clubs would like to look at as a playoff preview.
Devereaux tied a club record with a career-high five hits and Mussina spread 12 hits over 8 1/3 innings on the way to his ninth victory as the Orioles won their third straight game and kept pace one game behind the first-place Toronto Blue Jays.
The Orioles center fielder put on quite a show for Twins manager Tom Kelly, who along with AL president Bobby Brown will choose the reserves for the American League All-Star team next week. Devereaux is not expected to make the squad, but he made a statement in his own behalf with a triple and four singles to raise his average to .292.
"I'm not even thinking about that," Devereaux said. "I'm only interested in what I can do to help our team keep winning. Today, I think I had a little bit of luck. I bounced a ball over a guy's head and Brian [Twins catcher Brian Harper] dropped a foul ball to give me a chance for the fifth hit. But yes, I'm feeling very good at the plate right now."
Mussina, who is considered a strong candidate to be on the All-Star pitching staff, didn't do anything to hurt his chances, giving up one run to improve his record to 9-3 and drop his ERA to 2.31 -- fourth in the league. He was locked in a pitching duel with Smiley until the Orioles broke open the game with four runs on six hits in the seventh inning.
Glenn Davis and Randy Milligan each had two RBI and Joe Orsulak had three hits, but the victory did not come without a price. Second baseman Bill Ripken suffered a sprained right ankle running the bases in the sixth and had to be sent to a local hospital for precautionary X-rays. They apparently were negative, but he will be re-examined today.
The Orioles continue to dominate the defending world champion Twins, winning for the fifth time in six meetings this year. They took two of three games the first time they visited the Metrodome and swept a two-game series at Camden Yards.
For whatever reason, they seem to rise to the level of their competition. Since May 25, the club is 11-5 against teams with records above .500 and 9-11 against teams below .500.
"I don't know how to read it," manager Johnny Oates said. "I don't know why we play better against the better clubs and worse against the others. I don't think it's a lack of preparation or a lack of respect. I just don't have an answer."
This time, they ran into a red-hot pitching staff. The Twins had a combined 1.48 ERA during the previous 15 games and Smiley had won eight of nine decisions since the Orioles bounced him after four innings in April, but he took the brunt of a 14-hit offensive assault.
Mussina came into the game winless in his previous three starts, though he has not given up more than three runs in a game since May 20. He lost a 2-0 pitching duel to Kevin Appier on Saturday and failed to get a decision out of an eight-inning, five-hit performance against the New York Yankees in his previous start. He also had lost a one-run decision to Cleveland's Charles Nagy since his last victory, a shutout victory over the Detroit Tigers June 12.
The last time Mussina visited the Metrodome, he gave up five runs in 7 2/3 innings -- the most runs he has given up in any game this year -- but took advantage of a double-digit offensive performance by the Orioles to earn his third victory of the year. This time, he had base-runners all over the place, but he got all of the pivotal outs. He didn't give up a run until the Orioles were comfortably ahead.
"I think that's one of the characteristics of a good pitcher," Oates said. "You come off the field thinking, 'Boy, we had our chances.' But the guys you capitalize on are mediocre pitchers. The good pitchers close the door once in a while. That's the difference between a 9-3 pitcher and a 5-5 pitcher."
The Twins tried to call him on the carpet. They loaded the bases in the second with the help of back-to-back infield choppers to third, one of them bounding so high that it was lost in the lights by Leo Gomez. Mussina got out of the inning with a double-play ball. Leadoff man J.T. Bruett bunted for a hit to open the third, but Mussina dismissed the heart of the Minnesota lineup with apparent ease.
He gave up eight hits through the first five innings, but never seemed particularly crowded in what can be a very claustrophobic stadium. The Twins could have come back with one big swing on a number of occasions, and had the guy up to do it several times, but notorious Oriole-killer Kent Hrbek popped out with runners on base in each of his first three at-bats.
"To be out there almost every inning with a couple of guys on base and one out, that just shows me what I'm capable of doing," Mussina said. "I was able to get big outs when I needed them. If they drop one ball down the line or hit one off the baggie [outfield wall], it's a completely different ballgame. I've got to stop pitching on the edge."
Site: The Metrodome, Minneapolis
Time: 2:05 p.m.
Orioles starter: Storm Davis (3-2, 3.22)
Twins starter: Scott Erickson (6-5, 4.47)
TV: Home Team Sports
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)