KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Orioles ace Mike Mussina limited the opposition to three runs or less last night for the 11th time in his 13 starts this season.
The Orioles' offense being what it is, every out was a big one, and Mussina had to sweat out a 4-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium before an announced crowd of 25,781.
Mussina (8-3, 2.78) pitched 7 1/3 innings and allowed two runs on seven hits and one walk. He struck out three and threw 126 pitches, grabbing a piece of the league lead for wins with Chicago's Wilson Alvarez and the starters tonight in the second game of a three-game series, Ben McDonald and David Cone.
Mussina won a duel against Kansas City right-hander Tom Gordon (5-4, 4.48), who allowed three runs in eight innings on seven hits and five walks.
But the biggest throw of the night was delivered by Cal Ripken, whose relay throw gunned down a run at the plate in the sixth inning and preserved a one-run lead.
"Any time you make a big play like that in a close ballgame like that, it gives a lift, sure," said manager Johnny Oates.
"All three guys executed and that makes for a good play. There are not too many middle infielders in our league who can make that throw. The only other one I can think of is [Roberto] Alomar. There aren't many who can make a throw that strong and that accurate."
Leo Gomez drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly to center in the sixth, breaking a 2-2 tie. Mike Devereaux drove in a pair of runs, on an infield hit and a sacrifice fly, and Chris Hoiles doubled in a run.
Push-button manager Oates played the percentages again with
his bullpen, using lefty-lefty, righty-righty matchups in the eighth inning. As it has often in the past, that strategy worked.
He sent closer Lee Smith to the mound for the ninth inning. Of course, that almost always works and it did again last night.
Smith earned his 22nd save in 24 chances and was put in a save situation because left-hander Jim Poole and right-hander Alan Mills accomplished their brief, pressure-packed assignments.
Mussina walked Vince Coleman to open the eighth, then retired Brian McRae on a flyball deep to Devereaux in center, bringing Oates out of the dugout to make a pitching change.
Poole entered to face Wally Joyner, who flied to left. After Hubie Brooks was announced as a pinch hitter for Bob Hamelin, Oates replaced Poole with Mills.
For the second time of the night, Coleman attempted a steal of second base and wound up on third. Second baseman Mark McLemore couldn't get a glove on Hoiles' one-hop throw and Hoiles received his second throwing error of the night.
Mills retired Brooks on a grounder to McLemore to get out of the inning and the Orioles scored an insurance run on Devereaux's fly to right in the ninth.
Mike MacFarlane, who had homered off of Mussina in the second inning, nearly homered twice against Smith in the ninth. He sent one deep enough to left but in foul territory, then flied to Devereaux at the wall in right-center.
Smith then struck out Felix Jose and Greg Gagne for the save.
Gomez broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth with a sacrifice fly to center, which scored Harold Baines with the go-ahead run.
It was Gomez's 25th RBI in his past 29 games.
"He's on every pitch right now," teammate Rafael Palmeiro said of Gomez. "He's not getting fooled. He's not swinging at bad pitches. He's hitting everything hard. He's locked, as we like to call it."
Which has locked Chris Sabo out of the lineup, but that's another story.
Gomez, who walked his first two times up against Gordon, came to the plate with runners on the corners.
Harold Baines led off the inning with a single to right and moved to third when McRae bobbled Ripken's line single to center and was charged with his first error.
Gomez responded with his sacrifice fly. After Gordon struck out Hoiles, McLemore singled to center to put runners on the corners again with two outs for Jack Voigt, who flied to right.
After Mussina got two quick outs, the Royals threatened to tie the score in the bottom of the inning but Ripken would not allow it to happen.
Macfarlane singled with two outs and tried to score on Jose's double over center fielder Devereaux's head. Devereaux bounced a throw to Ripken, who relayed a strong, quick, one-hop throw from shallow center to Hoiles in plenty of time for Hoiles to pin the tag on Macfarlane, preserving the one-run lead.
Macfarlane had given the Royals a 2-1 lead, leading off the second with a home run to left, his eighth of the season and the eighth of his career against the Orioles.
Macfarlane also homered off of Mussina for the only run the Orioles ace allowed in eight innings on Opening Day, a start that quieted concerns about Mussina's return to form after an injury-riddled second half of '93 and a spring training in which he posted a 6.75 ERA.
Macfarlane's homer last night gave the Royals a one-run lead that lasted until the fifth, when Voigt doubled with one out, advanced a base on Brady Anderson's grounder to short and scored on Devereaux's infield hit, which tied the game, 2-2.
Mussina had fallen behind, 1-0, in the first. Coleman led off with a single to left, stole second and took third when Hoiles' throw went into center field. Coleman scored on Joyner's sacrifice fly to left.
Opponent: Kansas City Royals
Site: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Ben McDonald (8-3, 3.89) vs. Royals' David Cone (8-2, 2.64)