There no longer is any cause for alarm. Mike Mussina rested his tired arm just long enough to put the squeeze on the struggling Detroit Tigers last night and serve notice that the Orioles' starting rotation is back to full strength.
Mussina ended a three-start winless streak with a five-hit shutout, and the Orioles scored a 4-0 victory before 45,041 at Camden Yards to complete a three-game sweep of the Tigers. The victory extended the Orioles' winning streak to six games and kept them within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays in the American League East.
It was just a matter of taking a day off. Mussina was feeling the effects of a busy 1992 work schedule, so he skipped his in-between workout Sunday, hoping that his arm would be fresh enough to beat the Tigers. It apparently worked.
"My arm felt much stronger than the last two or three times out there," Mussina said. "Being in shape is very important, but adequate rest also is very important. Fortunately, it took just one guess to figure out what to do about it."
The Tigers guessed wrong all night, but what else is new? The Orioles have dominated them this year, winning nine of the first 11 games of the season series and all seven times at Camden Yards. Mussina has dominated the Tigers since he arrived in the big leagues last July, and has an 0.63 ERA in five career appearances against them to prove it.
This time, he found himself locked in an unexpected pitching duel with Tigers right-hander John Doherty, who was making his first major-league start. Doherty, who had pitched as many as five innings only once in 36 relief appearances, took a shutout through six, but he could not be expected to go any further.
The Detroit bullpen was not as successful, giving up four runs in the seventh inning after a bit of managerial strategy backfired on Sparky Anderson.
Anderson put himself in check with an intentional walk to Bill Ripken in the seventh inning, and struggling catcher Jeff Tackett followed with a run-scoring single to break the scoreless tie. The Orioles went on to open a comfortable lead, and Mussina did the rest.
Why walk Ripken?
For one, he has been one of the most productive Orioles hitters over the past eight games. For another, Tackett was in a 3-for-28 slump and had been regularly grounding out to the right side of the infield. And Anderson loves the intentional walk. The Tigers lead the American League in that department.
Anderson was trying to keep a lid on the Orioles offense and take advantage of Doherty's excellent performance. He also was aware that one run might be enough to complete the sweep, since Mussina did not seem inclined to let the Tigers get on the scoreboard. He was correct on that count.
Tackett drove in the only run that would really matter, but the Orioles also benefited from a three-hit performance by Mike Devereaux, whose two-run single capped the four-run rally.
"I knew he was going to walk Billy to get to me," Tackett said. "Billy's been swinging the bat well and the ninth spot was coming up. I just wanted to stay back and make sure I got a good swing.
"It feels good. They want to pitch to you and you get a chance to rub it in their face a little bit."
He poked the ball through the right side of the infield to score pinch runner Mark McLemore. Brady Anderson brought home another run with a ground out and Devereaux singled in two to increase his team-leading RBI total to 69.
Mussina reaped the benefits, recording his first victory since July 17 and becoming the third Orioles pitcher to record win No. 11 in the past five days.
Mussina came into the game with two victories in his previous nine starts, which would have been cause for alarm if he had been pitching poorly. But his ERA over that span was a solid 2.94, better than any other Orioles starter over the same period.
He made an adjustment anyway, eliminating his between-starts workout to preserve his arm for the stretch run. He has made 21 starts and pitched 155 innings, a pace that would push him close to 230 innings for the entire season. That is only modestly more than he pitched between the minor and major leagues last year (210 innings), but the club does not want fatigue to factor into his performance at a pivotal point in the season.
There was no evidence of it last night, though he pitched with at least one runner on base in each of the first five innings. He struck out seven of the first 14 batters he faced, including Lou Whitaker, Cecil Fielder and Mickey Tettleton in the fourth.
Mussina actually looked more vulnerable than Doherty in the early innings. He needed double plays in the first and second to stay out of trouble and he gave up a shot to right field in the fifth that nearly reached the seats in right-center field. Dave Bergman's drive took Joe Orsulak to the fence, coming just a few feet shy of a two-run home run. There also was a tremendous shot by Fielder in the seventh inning, but it hooked foul.
But the Orioles did an excellent job of keeping the two most dangerous hitters in the Tigers lineup at bay throughout the series. Fielder and former Oriole Mickey Tettleton came into the game with a combined 47 home runs and 151 RBI, but they were held to just three singles and one RBI in 20 at-bats in the three-game series.