Why not? Orioles in race for real

KEN ROSENTHAL

June 23, 1993|By KEN ROSNTHAL

Who would believe this?

Mike Mussina gets knocked out after 1 2/3 innings, the Orioles fall behind 7-1 and then stage an electrifying comeback for their most dramatic victory of the season.

Has the sixth inning ended yet? Not for Sparky Anderson. His Detroit Tigers are now 0-8 at Camden Yards. The way things look, they might never win here.

Last year the Tigers hit three straight homers off Ben McDonald shortly after the ballpark opened and lost, 12-4.

Last night, they got a three-run shot from Travis Fryman and a 423-foot bomb from Mickey Tettleton, and lost, 12-9.

This was the night Camden Yards finally came alive, the night the Orioles officially became contenders. From this point on, who knows what wonders this season will bring?

"Oh, man, that was awesome," second baseman Harold Reynolds said. "You can't get much better than that. You never want to think you're out of it, but it didn't look too pretty at the time."

It was the first time the Orioles rallied from a six-run deficit since Aug. 2, 1989, the night they ended a 2-12 road trip at Fenway Park to revive their "Why Not?" pennant drive.

This is a different team, but last night the Orioles lifted a page right out of that storybook season. The Orioles didn't just bat around in the sixth inning -- they batted around with two outs.

It all started with the bases empty and No. 8 hitter Leo Gomez facing Tigers starter Bill Gullickson.

Gomez was in a 3-for-33 slump.

How innocent can you get?

The next eight batters: Home run, walk, single, double, intentional walk, single, error, grand slam.

On the night Tettleton again embarrassed his former team with a shot that nearly landed on Eutaw Street, Hoiles returned the favor to his former team, with two homers and a career-high six RBI.

The Orioles always believed that Hoiles could match Tettleton's run production, and 2 1/2 years after the disastrous trade that sent Tettleton to Detroit, maybe now they will be proved right.

Hoiles' grand slam off a 1-2 pitch by reliever Kurt Knudsen broke a 7-7 tie, and Camden Yards went absolutely bonkers. The shot no doubt will prove as meaningful to the lore of the new ballpark as Doug DeCinces' heroics were to the future of the franchise in 1979.

Of course, Hoiles wasn't the only hero. Mark McLemore, the Orioles' best player all season, delivered a two-run double in the sixth to make it 7-6. Then, after an intentional walk to Cal Ripken, Harold Baines tied it with an RBI single.

What made the whole thing all the more incredible was that it happened on a night that looked to be utterly deflating, a night when Mussina turned in the shortest outing of his brief but spectacular major-league career.

What more can you say about the Orioles' bullpen? Alan Mills, Jim Poole and Todd Frohwirth combined to hold the Tigers to two runs until the ninth after Mussina's sudden exit, with Gregg Olson earning his 20th save after yielding a two-run single.

Don't look now, but Olson might be strolling in from the bullpen to earn the save for the American League in the All-Star Game. He's the first pitcher in major-league history to earn 20 or more saves in each of his first five seasons.

Yet, for all the good that came out of this, it will all be for naught if something is wrong with Mussina. The question is no longer unreasonable, considering that Mussina has a 10.05 ERA in three starts since the brawl with Seattle.

In that time, Mussina's overall ERA has risen by nearly a run per game, from 2.86 to 3.83. Last night, he gave up as many runs as he recorded outs. Heaven knows, that's not Mussina.

"I guess his shoulder's a little tight," Hoiles said afterward.

Is the problem related to the fight?

"I don't know," Hoiles said. "He noticed it on the side the last time. He carried it out there with him. He came out and tried it, at least."

Mussina, however, said he was fine.

"As far as I know, I'm OK," he said. "I don't feel too bad. I just think I haven't been throwing the ball that effectively. Things like that happen during the season. Unfortunately, it comes after we got in the fight."

Mussina entered the game 4-0 with an 0.88 ERA in six career starts against the Tigers. What's more, he was 12-0 the past two seasons on five or more days' rest -- and he pitched with the extra day's rest last night.

"He probably got up this morning licking his chops," Anderson said.

No, everyone else did.

What a game. What a night.

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