AL record first punch leaves NL seeing stars Mussina is perfect in brief relief role

July 15, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- The 63rd All-Star Game provided the perfect finishing touch to a near-perfect year for Orioles right-hander Mike Mussina, who is just completing his first full season of major-league service.

The 1992 campaign is barely past the halfway point, but Mussina got the call of a lifetime nearly a year ago, coming to the major leagues on July 31 in a radical pitching reorganization now considered the turning point for a team in transition.

His presence at Jack Murphy Stadium was based on a 9-3 record and a 2.40 ERA that ranks fourth in the American League. He pitched a perfect fifth inning -- the perfect exclamation point to his selection. But his solid performance dates back to the beginning. In the 28 starts since he entered the Orioles rotation, his 2.60 ERA is among the best in baseball.

"Realistically, I can't really imagine things going much better," Mussina said. "A year ago, I was sitting at home watching this game on TV. One calendar year later, I'm here in San Diego."

It doesn't stop there, of course. Mussina is right in the thick of the American League East division race. He is the steadiest pitcher in a starting rotation that has helped the Orioles stage one of the most dramatic half-season turnarounds in history. How could he not be an All-Star?

That apparently is the way American League manager Tom Kelly looked at it when he chose the pitching staff. There were a number of pitchers with strong numbers, but what appealed to Kelly was what he saw on the mound as much as what he saw on the stat sheet.

"He appeals to everybody in the American League who has seen him pitch," said Kelly. "He's a straightforward pitcher who has all the pitches and doesn't rattle. He presents himself well and he's a smart guy on the mound."

No one ever questioned Mussina's intelligence. You don't get through Stanford University unless you've got more on the ball than good rotation. He has a firm grip on what it takes to succeed, on the mound and in the real world. But this All-Star appearance was something of a fairy tale.

"I thought I had a chance, but then [Kevin] Appier had another great game and I didn't know," he said. "There were a lot of guys left off who could have made it."

It was easy being the new kid in town when he arrived at the headquarters hotel Sunday night. The autograph seekers surged past Mussina to get to the more established stars. He welcomed the anonymity, but it didn't last long. By the next day, he was inundated like the rest.

"There was a lot of stuff I wasn't expecting," he said. "I wasn't expecting to sign 20 dozen baseballs, and there is as much media here as there is at the Super Bowl."

The media crush was not exactly his idea of a good time, but he handled every interview request cordially, perhaps aware that there will only be more as he becomes an established star.

"I don't really like dealing with the media," he said, "though no one in the media has ever done anything bad to me. The guys in the media actually have been pretty good to me and I guess I ought to be better to them, but I just don't enjoy that part of it."

He did enjoy mingling with some of the players he watched while he was growing up. He even admitted being a little in awe of the situation, though no one would characterize Mussina as the awe-struck type.

The All-Star festivities provided a brief respite from a tense pennant race, but Mussina seems eager for the second half of the season.

"I think we can if we've got the right attitude after the break," Mussina said. "I think we can get back to the way we were pitching the first six weeks of the season, when we were getting the club into the seventh, eighth and ninth innings almost every night. That kind of thing obviously rubs off on the rest of the team. Hopefully, that will happen."

All-Star O's

How the three Orioles representatives fared in last night's All-Star Game:






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