BOSTON -- The Orioles are still sorting out what happened last night. They lost an important game, which would have been discouraging all by itself. They may have lost much more than that, though it may be days before it is determined whether right-hander Mike Mussina will remain in the starting rotation.
Mussina lasted 3 2/3 innings and gave up six runs as the Boston Red Sox survived a dismal performance by Roger Clemens to score a 6-5 victory last night at Fenway Park.
The Toronto Blue Jays were busy running their winning streak to five games against the Detroit Tigers, so the Orioles dropped three games off the pace with 16 left to play. But the most discouraging news came from Mussina, who admitted that his sore shoulder and stiff back continue to keep him from pitching ** effectively.
"I don't feel really good right now, no," Mussina said, "but that's no excuse for throwing bad pitches. When you get five runs off Roger Clemens, you've got to give your club a chance to win."
That may be true, but the revelation that Mussina still is sore severely limits the Orioles' prospects for winning the division title. It doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to see veteran Rick Sutcliffe coming back from a four-week layoff to make Mussina's next start.
Mussina (14-6) is one of the cornerstones of an Orioles rotation that will have to step up in a big way to keep the team in the race. The Orioles already are trying to get by without closer Gregg Olson, so they can ill afford to have its winningest starting pitcher drop out of the picture.
Forgive manager Johnny Oates a measure of frustration on this count. He went into the game under the impression that Mussina was feeling fine and came out of it wondering what exactly is going on.
"I don't know if he's got a problem right now," Oates said. "He has to tell you how he's feeling. I asked him and he said he was OK. If he's OK, he'll make his next start and we'll make some mechanical adjustments. If he's not OK, he won't."
The Red Sox came back from another early deficit -- just as they did Monday -- and overcame another mediocre performance by Clemens to take the deciding game of the series.
Clemens gave up five runs over five innings, but earned his 11th victory on the backs of three relievers. Paul Quantrill, Tony Fossas and Greg Harris combined to throw three innings of one-hit relief to secure the win, offsetting an outstanding 4 1/3 -inning effort by the Orioles' Todd Frohwirth.
There was a time when five runs for Mussina would have been automatic, but that was before he went down this summer with back and shoulder problems that have twice placed him on the disabled list.
"I'm not throwing the ball correctly," Mussina said. "When I throw correctly, my shoulder bites me and I try to throw differently. But when I do that, I don't know exactly where the ball is going."
Mussina actually is pitching with two different injuries -- shoulder tendinitis and recurring stiffness under his shoulder blade. Neither is thought to be serious, but neither is going to go away if he continues to pitch. He obviously is hoping to get through the rest of the season and then take an extended rest.
"They basically told me that there is no way I'm going to get completely rid of this until I can stop throwing completely," said Mussina, who got out of a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the third but gave up three two-out runs in the fourth before departing.
Mussina apparently will seek medical advice today in Milwaukee, which could have a bearing on whether he makes his next scheduled start on Tuesday in Cleveland.
The Orioles couldn't have been looking forward to facing Clemens, but they couldn't have picked a better time to run into him.
This has been a very un-Rocket-like year. He came into the game with a 10-13 record and a 4.33 ERA -- certainly not the kind of numbers that have made him the most feared pitcher of his generation. It was not long before the Orioles found out that he is not the same pitcher who won 17 games or more in each of the past seven seasons.
Clemens gave up four runs in a rocky second inning that included a hit batsman and his first balk in more than five years. It also included a strange play in which first baseman Mo Vaughn fielded a grounder by Mike Pagliarulo and stood frozen in indecision until Pagliarulo had reached first to load the bases.
The Red Sox had scored a run off Mussina in the first inning on an RBI double by Tim Naehring, but the Orioles took a three-run lead in the second on a bases-loaded single by David Segui, an RBI double by Brady Anderson and a run-scoring ground out by Mark McLemore.
The second inning also featured an uncomfortable moment after Clemens hit catcher Chris Hoiles on the elbow with a pitch. Hoiles was understandably upset, considering the circumstances of the past few days and the past couple of years.