Mussina 2-hits Twins for 3-2 win Palmeiro 3-run HR powers O's ace to his 3rd straight victory

8-1 start is club's 2nd-best

Johnson sings praises of 'unhittable Moose'

April 13, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Mike Mussina has pitched three regular-season games for Davey Johnson, and the Orioles manager has seen enough to draw a conclusion.

"I've had some awfully good pitchers," Johnson said last night, after Mussina pitched a complete-game two-hitter and beat the Minnesota Twins, 3-2. "But I haven't had as much confidence [in the others] as I do in him."

More confidence than he had in Dwight Gooden in Gooden's glory years? More than he had in Jose Rijo?

"Moose just doesn't make mistakes," Johnson said. "Sometimes after 100 pitches late in the game, [pitchers] lose something off their fastball. With Moose, he's going to hit his spots, make his pitches and get people out."

And he wins games. Mussina is 3-0, tied for the most wins of any pitcher in baseball. The Orioles are all about superlatives now: They're 8-1, the second-best start in club history; they currently possess the best record in the majors; they hold a six-game lead over the defending AL East champion Boston Red Sox.

Rafael Palmeiro drove in all the Orioles runs with a three-run homer in the sixth inning off baffling Minnesota lefty Rich Robertson. Enough for Mussina.

He walked Chuck Knoblauch to start the game, gave up a bases-empty homer to Knoblauch in the fourth and another bases-empty homer to pinch hitter Scott Stahoviak in the ninth. That was it. No other hits, no other walks, no Orioles errors. Perfect.

At one point, he retired 16 straight hitters, and through eight in

nings, he had faced one batter over the minimum. Pitching coach Pat Dobson asked Johnson if he should get somebody throwing in the bullpen for the ninth inning. "What for?" Johnson replied.

As Mussina waited for the ninth to begin, he stood in the runway behind the dugout, wearing a black and orange jacket, looking down silently, rocking from side to side, looking like a boxer waiting for the last round to begin. Two outs into the ninth, the crowd of 42,602 stood and honored Mussina, and he retired Twins outfielder Matt Lawton to finish. He has pitched a one-hitter before, and this was the second two-hitter of his career.

"Mussina pitched a whale of a game," said Minnesota manager Tom Kelly. "He's pitching great. It's the second time we've had to face him in nine games [the other being last Sunday]."

Kelly paused.

"Lucky us."

Actually, it was Mussina who felt fortunate. He threw poorly as he warmed up in the bullpen before the game, drifting in his delivery. As he walked in from the bullpen, Dobson sensed that Mussina was worried.

"But I wasn't," Dobson said, smiling wryly.

Dobson had watched Mussina dominate the Twins April 7 with an extraordinary fastball. A midseason fastball, Mussina later called it.

He didn't have that fastball last night, and he didn't have the great curveball. So he changed styles, as a boxer switches from right-hander to a southpaw in the middle rounds. "I had to come up with something else," Mussina said. "I took something off the fastball and dumped some curves, and -- as it turned out -- I made some good pitches."

Mussina pitched in and out of the strike zone, up and down. Sometimes, he missed. "They hit some fly balls, and just missed some pitches," Mussina said. "I got lucky sometimes."

Sure. So does Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson.

"Mussina was just awesome," Johnson said. "Moose was just unhittable."

As good as Mussina was, the Orioles were struggling to get him some runs.

On Thursday, former Cy Young Award winner Orel Hershiser started for Cleveland and the Orioles pummeled him as if he were some Double-A reject. Homers by Tony Tarasco and Brady Anderson, runners parading around the bases, nothing working for Hershiser. The O's vs. Orel was such a mismatch that Johnson felt compelled, out of deep and longtime respect for Hershiser, to say he felt sorry for the 37-year-old.

What could Twins left-hander Rich Robertson, 27 years old and in just his seventh major-league start, do against the Orioles that Hershiser couldn't do?

For five innings, just about everything.

Robertson pitched effectively against the Orioles in Minnesota last weekend, allowing two runs in six innings. He walked five, too, and last night he had better control. Robertson changed speeds and mixed his pitches well, and it was all the Orioles could do to get a ball to the outfield.

Robertson struck out Cal Ripken and Chris Hoiles in the second inning, surrendered a one-out single to Jeffrey Hammonds in the third (the Orioles' first hit), and then got Roberto Alomar to hit into a double play. Fourth inning, almost the same thing: Bobby Bonilla singled with one out, and this time it was Ripken -- Alomar's double-play partner, appropriately enough -- who bounced into a double play.

The left-hander needed a total of 14 pitches to get through the fourth and fifth innings, and the Orioles had hit only three balls out of the infield. Robertson, 6-foot-4, 175-pound wisp of an obstacle between the Orioles and their second-best start in club history.

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