This time, Nolan Ryan got a little help from his friends in the bullpen.
The legendary right-hander pitched his customary seven innings yesterday, allowing four hits, to lead the Texas Rangers past the Orioles, 6-2, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Ryan (5-3) was no more, or less, effective than normal in winning his fifth straight decision.
However, the big news was that the Rangers' beleaguered relief corps didn't allow a run over the last two innings. That hasn't happened very often this year, especially in games started by Ryan.
Five times, baseball's all-time strikeout king (he reached the 100 mark yesterday for the 23rd straight year and 24th overall) has turned a lead over to his bullpen only to end up with either a loss or a no-decision. But yesterday, Floyd Bannister retired the only batter he faced and Edwin Nunez pitched 1 2/3 routine innings for his second save of the year.
Ryan was staked to an early three-run lead, as the Rangers cuffed Mike Mussina (10-4) for eight hits in the first five innings. Mussina settled down after that, allowing two hits in the next four innings, but his inability to control Juan Gonzalez and Ruben Sierra cost him four runs -- and the decision.
"From where I sat, it looked like two different games for him," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "He couldn't get the ball where he wanted in the first four innings. Then, in the last four, he made some pretty good pitches."
The Rangers came into the game with a .129 team batting average (8-for-62) in three previous outings against Mussina. Only three Rangers -- Gonzalez, Sierra and Kevin Reimer -- had hit safely against the young right-hander, with Gonzalez and Sierra splitting six of the eight total hits.
That trend continued yesterday, when Gonzalez hit two home runs and Sierra a pair of doubles to give Ryan and the Rangers all the spark they needed.
Both of Sierra's doubles hit off the right-field scoreboard. The first was a line drive that scored Jeff Huson, who had singled, from first base with the game's first run in the opening inning.
Sierra's next two-base hit, leading off the fourth inning, was less auspicious, but proved equally damaging. It was a towering fly ball that grazed the message board on the way down. Gonzalez followed immediately with his first homer of the game, a long blast deep into the left-field seats, giving the Rangers a 3-0 lead.
When Reimer looped a single to right and Dean Palmer hit a single to left, Mussina appeared headed for an early dismissal. But he regrouped to get the next three hitters and allowed only two more hits the rest of the way.
The second was Gonzalez's second homer of the game and 22nd of the season, a monstrous shot into the sod farm in straightaway center. It traveled 450 feet, the longest recorded at Camden Yards.
"You can make him [Gonzalez] look bad on some pitches," said Oates, "but if you throw it in his wheelhouse, he's going to hurt you. The first one [home run pitch] definitely didn't have the right height -- it was waist-high -- and it looked like he [Mussina] didn't get the second one [a low fastball] out far enough."
Before the second homer by Gonzalez, the Orioles had gotten themselves into the game with two runs in the fourth inning. Three successive hits, a blooper over shortstop by Cal Ripken, a single to left by Glenn Davis (hitting in his 10th straight game), a double by Joe Orsulak (who has also hit in 10 straight) and an infield grounder by David Segui made it 3-2.
However, Orsulak's hit was the last allowed by Ryan, and the Orioles had only one legitimate threat the rest of the way. Mike Devereaux reached on Palmer's error at third base to start the sixth and, after Ripken popped out, Davis coaxed Ryan's second, and last, walk of the game.
But Orsulak hit into a force and Segui flied to left, and that was it for the Orioles.
Gonzalez finished his productive afternoon with a run-scoring double off Storm Davis, as the Rangers added a pair of runs in the ninth inning. Jeff Frye led off with a walk and stole second after Brian Downing flied out and before Huson struck out.
Rafael Palmeiro looped a single to left, scoring Frye. Sierra walked and Gonzalez lined his double into the left-field corner to out the scoring.
By then, many in the 29th straight sellout crowd (45,668) had departed, and the Orioles were on the verge of losing for the fifth time in the past six games.
In winning three of four, the Rangers won a series in Baltimore for the first time since Aug. 5-7, 1986. It also marked the first time that the Rangers won three in a row (and three in one series) in Baltimore since June 7-9, 1976.
Although the Orioles won the season series, 7-5, the Rangers won four of the six games played here, the first time they've won a season series in Baltimore since 1980.
The loss kept the Orioles four games behind the Toronto Blue Jays, who lost in Oakland, 9-1. But the Milwaukee Brewers are just a half-game behind the Orioles after winning yesterday.