Mussina uncovers a gem in Detroit salvage operation Ace strikes out 14 to win finale, 3-2

May 17, 1993|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

DETROIT -- It was a day to forget about pitch counts and relief pitchers. If the Orioles were going to salvage a game from their weekend series against the Detroit Tigers, Mike Mussina had to carry the burden.

And the 24-year-old right-hander didn't disappoint. He responded with one of the most powerful performances of his brief but successful career.

Using a variety of pitches, Mussina (5-1) tied a club record by striking out 14, as the Orioles stopped a four-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the Tigers. Leo Gomez and Chris Hoiles hit bases-empty home runs, and Gomez drove in the game-winner with a fifth-inning sacrifice fly, but Mussina was the story.

He became the fourth Oriole to strike out 14. Bob Turley, Connie Johnson and Mike Boddicker achieved the feat in nine innings, but Mussina got his in eight. The team record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game is 17, by three pitchers (Roger Nelson, Moe Drabowsky and Fred Beene), Sept. 18, 1968, against the Boston Red Sox.

Despite allowing home runs to Travis Fryman and Cecil Fielder, the sixth of the year for each, Mussina dominated the game until the ninth. Gregg Olson came on and gave up a walk and a single before claiming a shaky save, his seventh.

"I didn't look at the pitch chart until after the seventh inning," said Orioles manager Johnny Oates. "He [Mussina] was at 128 then, and we had him for 141 after the eighth."

It's a good thing Oates didn't check Mussina's pitch counts in the middle of the game. If he had, the afternoon might have been even more adventuresome.

Mussina was near 100 pitches after five innings (99). But there was little chance he wouldn't pitch into the seventh inning for the 45th time in his 52 major-league starts.

Under the circumstances, Oates might have been tempted to let Mussina finish. "I had visions of David Cone and what he went through [after throwing 166 pitches in a complete game for the New York Mets last summer]," said Oates.

Mussina was aware that he had tied a team record, having been informed on the bench by Ben McDonald. "You might say, 'Give the guy a chance [to break the record],' but I was tired," said Mussina.

After using the bullpen for 10 innings the previous two days, Oates had nobody available for long relief. He had contemplated calling up a pitcher from Triple-A Rochester, but gambled on the workhorse of his starting rotation.

Despite the high pitch count, Mussina more than lived up to expectations. He had struck out every batter in the Detroit lineup by the fifth inning and, despite long home runs by Fryman and Fielder, he stayed in control until he left.

"I can put a solo home run onto the roof [where Fielder's shot landed] behind me a lot easier than a bloop single that drives in two runs when I think I've made a good pitch," said Mussina. "These guys [the Tigers] score a lot of runs.

"People make mistakes against them, and they pay for them. I made a bad pitch to Fryman [in the first inning], and he hit it 420 feet. I made a bad pitch to Cecil [in the fourth], and he hit it 520 feet. You just hope the next one doesn't go 600 feet."

The home runs by Fryman and Fielder were estimated to have gone 411 and 475 feet, but Mussina made his point -- the bases-empty homers didn't beat him.

"I thought his changeup was the best it's been all year," said Oates. "He struck out [Kirk] Gibson on two straight -- and it doesn't get much better than that. His arm motion and speed [on the changeup] were outstanding all day."

Mussina didn't dispute Oates' evaluation of his changeup, but said it was the result of his other pitches. "I probably had the best fastball I've had all year," he said. "When you have a good fastball, you don't have to have a great changeup. If you're throwing a good fastball, you're going to have good arm speed. When you don't have a good fastball, that's when you fight it."

Mussina had two strikeouts in each of the first three innings, and struck out three in both the fourth and the sixth. He tied the record with his second strikeout in the seventh, getting Chad Kreuter for the third time.

The eighth was the only inning Mussina didn't register a strikeout, and if anybody was pleased, it was his manager. "[Alan] Trammell hit the first pitch [a fly to center], and that helped him get through the inning," said Oates.

After Lou Whitaker drew the second walk from Mussina, Fryman, who struck out twice after his homer, hit a hard grounder to shortstop Cal Ripken, who started an inning-ending double play. It was the only ground ball hit to Ripken during the three-game series.

The home runs by Gomez (sixth) and Hoiles (fourth) weren't nearly as prodigious as those by Fryman and Fielder, but they registered as much on the scoreboard. They came off David Haas, who relieved in the third inning after starter Bill Gullickson was hit on the right kneecap by a line drive by Harold Reynolds.

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