Perfect fifth inning caps starry year for Mussina

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, but his solid performance dates back to the beginning. In the 28 starts since he first 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 at this time, 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."

"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 on Sunday night. The swarms of 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.

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."

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