ARLINGTON, Texas -- Mike Mussina flirted with perfection here last night, but had to settle for a brilliant one-hitter as the Orioles breezed to an 8-0 win over the Texas Rangers.
The stone-faced 23-year old right-hander dominated the gamwith a classic assortment of pitches, punctuated by a blazing fastball. He was threatened only once, in the fifth inning.
Other than that, Mussina (10-3) was perfect. In eight of the nininnings, the Rangers sent only three men to the plate, and they had only 29 batters for the entire game, just two above the minimum.
Mussina walked one and matched his career high with 1strikeouts, a mark he established last Aug. 21 against the Rangers. The performance was made all the more impressive because it came against a hot-hitting team that has one of the toughest lineups in the American League.
"Sometimes you run into matchups that are particularly good for a pitcher or a hitter," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "I think this one [against the Rangers] is a good one for Mike because he throws something other than the fastball for strikes."
BIt was only the 29th complete game one-hitter in Orioles' history, the last coming from Mike Boddicker against Kansas City April 28, 1987. But from the stoic expression Mussina wears most of the time, it looked like just another day at the office.
"Things just fell into place," Mussina said after a visit to thpost-game buffet table. "We got a lead and things just fell into place."
It wasn't, however, quite that routine. "He was a pleasure to watch," said Oates. "That was as consistent as I've ever seen him."
That is saying volumes, because if Mussina is anything at allhe's consistent. Few pitchers have broken into the big leagues with so much of that quality.
Last night was the 27th straight time (in 29 career starts) that hhas pitched at least into the sixth inning. He has averaged over seven innings per outing in that time and has allowed two runs or fewer in 19 of those 29 starts.
Mussina's ERA since last Sept. 1, when he started his seconmonth in the big leagues, is a sizzling 2.08 -- the best in the major leagues during that stretch.
"He hasn't had a bad start this year -- and I can remember onlone since he's been here [it was Aug. 9, his second start and the only time Mussina has failed to last five innings]," said Oates.
Mussina's performance couldn't be classified as a surprise, buthe same couldn't be said about the rest of the game.
The Orioles picked an unusual spot to interrupt their prolonged batting slump. They picked on Kevin Brown (14-5), the winningest pitcher in the major leagues, for 11 hits and five runs in the first six innings, then added three more runs in the eighth as the Rangers used a procession of four relievers.
Every player in the lineup hit safely at least once as the Oriolecollected 14 hits in breaking a four-game losing streak. The loss was the second in five games for the Rangers since Toby Harrah replaced Bobby Valentine as manager last weekend.
Brady Anderson had three hits and Mike Devereaux, Joe Orsulaand Jeff Tackett each had two hits for the Orioles, who won for only the fifth time in 12 starts in a 21-game stretch against West Division contenders Minnesota, Chicago and Texas.
Ruben Sierra drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the fifth andafter Juan Gonzalez struck out, Kevin Reimer broke up Mussina's no-hit bid with a double six inches inside the right field line. But a line drive off the bat of Rodriguez was just within the reach of shortstop Cal Ripken, who jumped to make the catch, and Jeff Huson struck out to end the inning.
"All I was thinking about at that point was getting more runs, noa no-hitter," said Mussina. "Then it was 3-0, and the next thing I knew there were runners on second and third and a hit could make it 3-2.
"To have a game like this, you have to have some luck," saiMussina. "They hit some balls good, but right at people."
The Orioles put the finishing touches on Brown in the sixtinning, by which time every player in the Oriole lineup had at least one hit. Bill Ripken, Tackett and Anderson had successive singles to load the bases.
Devereaux followed with a long sacrifice fly, advancing the twlead runners and Cal Ripken's slow roller to the left side resulted in a force play and the second run of the inning, giving the Orioles a 5-0 lead.
They added three more in the eighth, but by that time noboddoubted Mussina had more than enough of a cushion. "The offense was a real pickup for the team tonight," said Tackett. "To have a lead like that and Mike pitching, you have to feel good."
Close, but no . . .
Mike Mussina pitched the 29th one-hitter in Orioles history last night. A look at one-hitters by Orioles in the last 20 years:
Date... Pitcher... ... ... Opp.
7/17/92 Mussina ... ... ...Texas
9/17/88 Bob Milacki ... ...Detroit
... ... Tom Niedenfuer
4/28/87 Mike Boddicker... .K.C.
6/5/85 .Dennis Martinez ...Calif.
8/13/84 Mike Boddicker ... Toronto
10/2/83 Mike Boddicker ... N.Y.
... ....Sammy Stewart
... ....Tippy Martinez
9/4/82 .Jim Palmer... ... .Minn.
7/30/79 Steve Stone... ....Mil.
... ....Tippy Martinez
8/10/76 Jim Palmer ... ... Minn.
7/26/75 Mike Cuellar... ...Mil.
6/8/75 .Jim Palmer... ... .K.C.
5/31/75 Mike Cuellar ... ..Mil.
7/27/73 Jim Palmer ... ....Cle.