Going gently in pitchers' kind of night

May 18, 1994|By KEN ROSENTHAL

It was a pitcher's night, chilly and windy, fans bundled up, players in long sleeves. Roger Clemens wasn't going to blink, and neither was Mike Mussina. It was too cold for that, and besides, neither would ever consider such a thing.

We're not talking about Scottie Pippens here, OK? We're talking about two of the game's fiercest warriors. Clemens vs. Mussina evolved into the classic duel so many expected. The game was so tense and riveting, the calendar might as well have read September.

Here's how the Orioles won: On an infield single by Rafael Palmeiro, a slow roller through the middle by Harold Baines and a sacrifice fly by Cal Ripken. Their stunning 3-2 triumph left them three games behind the first-place New York Yankees, whose 10-game winning streak ended with a 5-4 loss to Minnesota.

Afterward, both Clemens and Mussina knew that they had engaged in a memorable duel. "It was a good battle, a good ballgame, definitely for the fans," Clemens said. "It was a good battle all the way through."

Mussina said it was "amazing" just to watch Clemens pitch. "There was a lot of talk about the pitching matchup between Roger and me," he said. "A lot of time you have talk about it and it doesn't happen. Tonight, it happened."

Mussina pitched eight gritty innings to earn his seventh victory -- and his fifth over an opponent's Opening Day pitcher. Lee Smith, working for the first time in a week, earned his 16th save against the team that traded him to St. Louis for Tom Brunansky four years ago.

"My stomach is in knots," Orioles manager Johnny Oates said moments after a victory in which his team managed only five hits against Clemens and struck out 11 times. "Don't give me a whole cup of coffee to hold right now. Give me half a cup."

Oates was so frantic for runs, he employed a strategy he normally abhors in the first inning, ordering Brady Anderson to steal with Palmeiro batting. The move didn't help -- Clemens struck out the side -- but it was clear this was a night it would be nearly impossible to score.

The fans knew it -- they cheered in the second when Clemens took a sharp Leo Gomez one-hopper off his bare hand, then threw a warm-up pitch 10 feet over catcher Damon Berryhill's head. That gave Boston a scare, but Clemens threw five more warm-up pitches without incident. No way he was coming out.

In the end, Mussina and Clemens combined for more strikeouts (18) than runners allowed (17) -- and Smith added two strikeouts of his own. Clemens struck out six in the first three innings alone. Seven of his 11 strikeouts came on called third strikes. It was the 56th 10-strikeout game of his career.

"He seems to be tough each and every time out," said Ripken, who hit his game-winning sacrifice fly with one out in the eighth. "There are just different degrees of how well he pitches. His velocity was up there tonight. He was on the outside edge of the plate. He was very difficult to hit."

Why, the Orioles didn't hit a ball out of the infield until Baines delivered a one-out single in the fourth. Baines, a .317 lifetime hitter off Clemens, also hit an opposite-field home run to give Mussina a 2-1 lead leading off the sixth, and sent Palmeiro to third with his one-out single in the eighth.

Man, it was close. Man, it was intense. And, with Ben McDonald facing Aaron Sele tonight and Sid Fernandez meeting Danny Darwin tomorrow, expect more of the same. "This whole series, it's going to be long nights for the offenses," said Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles, who went 0-for-4.

On nights like this, you need good defense, plucky offense and, yes, a little luck. The Orioles had all three working against Clemens. Their struggling 1-2 hitters, Anderson and Mike Devereaux, were a combined 0-for-6 with five strikeouts, yet each still contributed.

Anderson struck out three times to extend his batting slump to 4-for-40, but in the early innings he took away a hit from Otis Nixon with a running catch near the left-field line and held Mike Greenwell to a single on a ball hit into the left-center field gap.

Devereaux made an even more spectacular defensive play -- a running, over-the-shoulder, backhand grab to rob Billy Hatcher of extra bases with one on in the fifth. It was a huge catch. Berryhill and Nixon followed with back-to-back, two-out singles, giving Boston a 1-0 lead.

The Orioles got a break in the bottom half when third base umpire Rich Garcia called Gomez safe after a high throw by Clemens on an attempted sacrifice by Jack Voigt. Anderson struck out, but Devereaux hit a sacrifice fly for his first RBI in 28 at-bats to tie the score.

When Baines hit his fifth home run leading off the sixth, the Orioles suddenly had half as many runs in two innings as Clemens had allowed in his previous 45. It was only the fourth homer given up by Clemens this season.

And so it went. Palmeiro hit a single off Tim Naehring's glove to start the game-winning rally, extending his hitting streak to 19 games, longest in the majors this season. The game ended with Nixon taking a called third strike from Smith and nearly slamming his bat in disgust, believing the pitch was a ball.

Cold air, hot pitchers, September electricity -- not bad, for an early-season game in May. Oates said double no-hitters and 18-strikeout games crossed his mind in the dugout. It wasn't that spectacular, but it was close. Mussina over Clemens. Orioles 3, Red Sox 2.

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Red Sox's Aaron Sele (4-1, 2.35) vs. Orioles' Ben McDonald (7-1, 3.34)

Tickets: Several hundred scattered singles remain, in addition to 183 bleacher seats and 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.

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