For Mussina, '93 remains sore spot

JOHN EISENBERG

September 28, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

Mike Mussina is sticking to his story as the Orioles' season winds down and the sorting out begins. No, he didn't intentionally plunk Bill Haselman with the pitch that turned around the Orioles' season. No, he didn't intentionally show up Cito Gaston in the All-Star bullpen.

"I know people think otherwise," Mussina said yesterday. "Everyone assumes I meticulously plan everything because I went to a semi-decent college and I'm halfway intelligent. Scheming makes for good controversy. But it doesn't always work like that."

He was sitting in the clubhouse on a night he was originally scheduled to pitch, but didn't because of the shoulder and back soreness that bothered him the last four months of the season. His season, which ended last week, was creditable (14-6, 4.46 ERA) by any standards except those set in his first two years in the bigs.

"I really didn't accomplish anything," Mussina said. "I won some games and made the All-Star team, but what good is that unless I can go out there and pitch like the team needs me to pitch? I didn't do that. I'll probably think about it for as long as I play the game. What happened in '93? What went wrong?"

Little went wrong until June 6, when, after the Mariners' Chris Bosio had thrown behind two Oriole batters, Mussina plunked Haselman, who charged the mound and started a colossal brawl with Mussina at the bottom.

"It bothered me," Mussina said. "Because it shouldn't have happened. I knew tempers were flaring and they were expecting me to come inside and I had to be careful. I wasn't trying to hit the guy, but I did."

He wasn't close to the same pitcher for the rest of the season, and, ultimately, the Orioles' pennant chances were greatly compromised. Some Orioles coaches and executives think Mussina was injured in the fight and blown for the year. Others think the fight had nothing to do with the injuries, that they're just the result of a slender pitcher overthrowing. Mussina has heard both sides. He doesn't know.

"It's going to be one of those things I never know," he said. "I sit here and try to remember how I felt before the fight, after, three starts after. Was there a difference? When did I start hurting? I honestly don't believe it was the fight. There were other variables. The 140-pitch game [in Detroit on May 16]. A lot of eight-inning starts early in the season. But obviously the fight didn't help."

What also didn't help was Mussina's refusal to admit he was hurting.

"I didn't handle it right," he said. "But it's the Superman thing. You're young, you don't think things can happen to you. I know I'll appreciate it more from now on when I'm healthy. I learned a lesson this year. Don't be a hero. It hurts the team and, in the long run, can really hurt you."

The fact that he didn't pitch in the All-Star Game led to the brouhaha that fevered this town in July. One more time. . .

"Anyone out in the bullpen will tell you exactly how it went," Mussina said. "[Gaston] called from the dugout in the bottom of the sixth and said it would be [Jeff] Montgomery, [Rick] Aguilera and [Duane] Ward [pitching] the last three innings. I turned to Elrod [Hendricks, bullpen coach] and said, 'Hey, I haven't pitched in six days, I better get my work in.' He said, 'OK, but wait until later in case someone gets hurt.' Cito knows that's what happened. Elrod, Johnny [Oates, Orioles manager], they all know."

In any event, the perception was that he showed up Gaston by warming up on his own, turning the crowd against the manager. When the Orioles played in Toronto two weeks later, Mussina made the front page of the Toronto Sun -- in a picture of fans ripping up his baseball card. Then he swallowed his pride and apologized to Gaston, whom, he felt, also had been wrong. Did the whole business shake him?

"I can't say it didn't make me go, like, 'Wow, this is getting kind of big here,' " Mussina said. "If I had pitched up there [as scheduled], it could have gotten crazy. But I was too sore to go."

He was sore for the rest of the season. The soreness doesn't concern him for next year -- "all it needs is rest" -- as much as the fact that he tinkered with his mechanics.

"You don't want to sustain bad habits," he said. "But I just made a mistake by going [when he shouldn't have]. I'll be fine. I've been injured worse than this and come back fine. I just need to forget about [this season]. Last year, I finished strong and kind of wanted the season to go on. This year, I'm kind of looking forward to the end. It gets frustrating sitting around thinking about what could have been. Or, would have been."

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