OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus was encamped outside the Oakland Coliseum and Arena yesterday. There were camels strolling around the parking lot. Performers on horseback warming up within a few yards of the arriving baseball crowd. Quite a scene.
But it was nothing compared with what would go on inside the baseball facility last night. The Orioles scored an important 4-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics in the opener of a potential playoff preview series, and the outcome was little more than a subplot in an evening of major storylines.
The A's broke up the Bash Brothers. They pulled superstar Jose Canseco out of the lineup in the first inning and traded him to the Texas Rangers. The Orioles followed with a deal of their own, announcing the acquisition of left-handed starting pitcher Craig Lefferts just in time to meet the midnight (EDT) deadline for new players to be eligible for postseason play.
On the field, shortstop Cal Ripken recorded his 1,000th and 1,001st career RBI with a bases-loaded single in the seventh inning and right-hander Mike Mussina gave up just three hits over eight innings to combine with Todd Frohwirth on the club's third consecutive shutout. They had not had three straight shutouts since May 20-22, 1982.
It was a very eventful evening.
"We won the ballgame," manager Johnny Oates said. "That's the biggest event for me tonight. It's the time of year to put some zeros on the board."
The Orioles are hot again. The victory was their fifth in the past six games and it kept them within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays, who defeated the Chicago White Sox, 9-2, last night.
Ripken might even be hot. He had three hits in a game for the first time since June 21, and Brady Anderson reached base four times to lead the Orioles' nine-hit, nine-walk offensive attack.
Mussina and A's right-hander Kelly Downs traded scoreless innings until the Orioles batted around to score all of their runs in the seventh. Mike Devereaux broke the scoreless tie with a bloop single to center and Ripken added two more with a base hit to left that brought home Randy Milligan and Devereaux. Oakland reliever Jim Corsi contributed the last run with a bases-loaded walk to Chris Hoiles.
Mussina was trying to polish his numbers for August, which was his worst month of the season. He entered the game with a 2-1 record and a 4.37 ERA in five starts. In the four months previous, his highest ERA was 3.05.
He had not suffered a loss since the Blue Jays teed off on him for eight runs in 6 1/3 innings Aug. 10, but his hits-to-innings ratio over the four-start span leading into last night was substantially higher than at any other time this season.
The A's apparently didn't notice. They managed only three hits through the first eight innings, but Mussina struggled with his control and had set a career high for walks in a game (five) before he got out of the fourth.
"I had no idea where the ball was going for about the first five innings," said Mussina, who recorded his 13th victory, "but I was able to get some big outs. I battled. Some days you deserve to lose and some days you deserve to win. That one was pretty borderline."
Downs also pitched with runners on base throughout the early innings, and also managed to carry a shutout well into the evening. The Orioles helped, taking themselves out of several promising situations.
Promising situation No. 1: Two on, two out in the top of the first. Ripken bounced weakly to the mound.
Promising situation No. 2: Ripken and Chito Martinez deliver back-to-back singles to put runners at first and third with one out in the fourth. Leo Gomez grounded into a double play.
Promising situation No. 3: Downs walked the bases loaded with one out in the fifth. Devereaux struck out and Glenn Davis popped out to shortstop Walt Weiss.
The A's had their chances, too, beginning with the bases-loaded situation in the second inning and a couple of middle-inning opportunities that went for naught. Henderson left two more runners on in the fourth and Mussina worked out of a first-and-third, one-out situation in the fifth.
Mussina was resourceful, but he also benefited from a relatively toothless A's lineup. Canseco was removed from the batting order before he could take a swing. Mark McGwire has been on the disabled list since he suffered a rib cage strain during the series against the Orioles at Camden Yards. Dave Henderson is on the disabled list (but probably will return to the lineup tonight).