Even Mussina can't turn punchless O's out of this skid

June 02, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

The Orioles turn this afternoon to a 23-year-old pitcher who didn't appear in a game above the Single-A level until this April. They turn to him in hopes he will keep them from being swept by the Detroit Tigers in a four-game series.

Scott Klingenbeck, backed by the same offense that couldn't help a struggling Mike Mussina last night, will fill the role of stopper today.

Until last night, Mussina had specialized in breaking losing streaks, winning all five of his decisions in games following an Orioles loss.

On this night, Tigers veteran right-hander Tim Belcher was the best pitcher at Camden Yards, where 46,773 spectators watched the Tigers trash the Orioles, 11-3.

Losing for the fifth time in six games, the Orioles, in third place in the American League East, remained six games behind the division-leading New York Yankees, while the Tigers took sole possession of fourth place, leaving the two-time defending World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays alone in the cellar.

Belcher (3-8), who had a 7.14 ERA coming into the game, took a two-out shutout and a 10-0 lead into the eighth inning before settling for a 96-pitch, eight-inning four-hitter. The Orioles scored a run in the eighth on Jeff Tackett's grounder.

Belcher allowed one run, walked three and struck out three. Mussina allowed four earned runs on 10 hits and four walks in six innings. Tim Hulett, a late-inning replacement for shortstop Cal Ripken, hit a two-run home run off reliever Mike Gardiner in the ninth.

The Orioles were outhit 16-7 last night, with Travis Fryman and Danny Bautista doing most of the damage for Detroit. Fryman went 5-for-5 with two RBIs and Bautista, hitting ninth, went 3-for-4, scored four times and knocked in two.

Mussina threw 34 pitches in the first inning, 60 in the first two and 100 in the first four.

"I had trouble with just about everything," Mussina said. "It was one of those days. It's not like I can just say I didn't have good location, or I couldn't change speeds the way I wanted, or I was leaving pitches up. It was all of the above."

The Tigers put eight runners on base in the first two innings.

"Giving up three runs in those first two innings is a pretty decent accomplishment considering what I was throwing up there," Mussina said.

In retrospect, this game screamed of what is known as a "reverse lock" in Las Vegas. The numbers pointed too heavily to one side.

Mussina's and Belcher's numbers presented a study in contrast and portended a mismatch.

Mussina came into the start with the second-lowest on-base percentage of any pitcher in the American League, ranking behind only Kansas City's David Cone.

Belcher not only led the league in losses, but had the highest on-base percentage in the league.

What happened last night was Belcher had the kind of start scouts who make a living judging talent have predicted he could rip off any night.

"I had real good command of my fastball, which is usually the key for me," Belcher said. "There were probably a couple of other games where my raw stuff was better, but results-wise, this was certainly the best."

His showing didn't surprise Mussina. "You know Belcher is not going to be 2-8 with a seven ERA all year," he said. "That's just unrealistic."

The first sign of trouble for Mussina came early in the Tigers' one-run first inning. He got ahead of leadoff hitter Tony Phillips 0-and-2 only to walk him.

Phillips scored before Mussina recorded his first out after consecutive singles by Lou Whitaker and Fryman. The Tigers turned two walks and two singles into two runs in the second, putting Mussina behind 3-0.

He didn't allow another run until Bautista homered to center field leading off the sixth.

It grew absurdly ugly in the seventh, when right-handed reliver Mark Williamson came on. The Tigers sent 10 batters to the plate, seven in a row reached base and six of them scored.

Williamson allowed six runs (four earned) on four hits and a walk in two-thirds of an inning.

One night after making two standout plays in the field, first baseman Rafael Palmeiro watched his 161-game errorless streak end in the six-run inning.

Two runs scored on Whitaker's grounder under Palmeiro's glove.

"Yes, it's a big deal to me," Palmeiro said before the game of his errorless streak. "I take pride in my defense. I like to play good, solid defense. I would like to get a Gold Glove, but it's going to be hard with Don Mattingly in the league. He has the reputation and he can play. He makes all the plays and he knows how to play the hitters."

Reminded that Texas first baseman and former college teammate Will Clark was a Gold Glove winner in the National League, Palmeiro said, "How can you even compare Will with Mattingly? Mattingly is much better."

The Orioles have had no complaints about Palmeiro's defense and, in fact, have had few complaints about their defense, period.

The two unearned runs were only the sixth and seventh of the season allowed by the Orioles.

It was Palmeiro's first error since he committed two May 29 in Boston last season. He fell short of the errorless record for an American League first baseman -- 178 -- set by Mike Hegan from 1970-72.

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