Orioles feel chill of not getting outs

April 24, 1996|By John Eisenberg

CLEVELAND -- The snow stopped falling around dusk last night at Jacobs Field.

A few hours later, the Orioles figured their losing streak was about to stop, too.

They had a three-run lead with Mike Mussina on the mound.

It was the perfect time for them to end their five-game losing streak.

There was only one problem: They were playing the Indians.

The three-run lead? It was gone in five minutes.

Mussina? He was gone with two outs in the seventh inning, having allowed nine earned runs -- the most of his career in any outing.

The Orioles? They were the only people in town wishing the snow had never stopped falling.

They put together a late rally to take the game down to the last out, but a loss is a loss is a loss.

Six in a row now.

It's way too early in the season for anything to matter much, but this is getting serious.

After the game, manager Davey Johnson politely declined to speak to radio reporters and general manager Pat Gillick paced through the quiet, nearly empty clubhouse with a grim expression.

They have a small problem on their hands.

Their pitchers can't get anyone out.

Orioles hitters are averaging almost six runs a game during the losing streak. That's a lot of offense, but not nearly enough in this case.

Orioles pitchers have given up an average of 11 runs a game during the streak.

And that's without having Sid Fernandez to kick around anymore.

You know it's getting serious when Mussina, one of the lions of the AL, pulls a Jay Tibbs.

Two hours before the game he stood alone in the dugout watching the cold, hard rain that had fallen all day.

The rain turned to snow. Mussina shrugged and headed back to the clubhouse, gearing up to work in brutal circumstances.

Forty degrees at game time with an 18-mph wind off Lake Erie.

Enjoy!

"Felt like a football game more than a baseball game," Mussina said. "It was a little chilly."

The game was sold out months ahead of time, but several thousand seats were empty. Fans wore winter coats and huddled underneath blankets.

For three innings they watched Mussina pitching at the top of his game, a ray of white-hot heat on the chilly night. He struck out four in the first three innings without allowing a hit.

In the fourth, the Orioles scored three runs, two on a 410-foot Bobby Bonilla home run.

Mussina has blown few three-run leads in his career, but he couldn't hold this one for half an inning. He threw a high fastball that the Indians' Manny Ramirez hit into the seats for a three-run homer. The Orioles' three-run lead was now a 4-3 deficit.

"I got a ball up," Mussina said. "These guys are too good to get away with that."

The Orioles scored a run in the fifth to tie, but the Indians came back with two for a 6-4 lead.

The game turned for good in the seventh. With two out and none on, the Indians' Julio Franco hit a line drive to right field. The Orioles' Tony Tarasco dove and came up holding the ball, signaling a catch. Umpire Tim Tschida disagreed, signaling a hit.

Tschida didn't have a perfect view because there were only three umpires working the game; crew chief Don Denkinger was out with a pulled leg muscle, forcing the others to cover extra territory.

After Carlos Baerga singled, Albert Belle hit a three-run homer. Goodbye, Mussina.

"I saw Tarasco catch the ball," Johnson said. "But the umpires were short-handed. Tim's a good umpire. I just don't think he had a good shot at it."

The call became particularly important when the Orioles rallied for four runs in top of the eighth, cutting a 9-4 deficit to 9-8. But Rafael Palmeiro flied out to left for the third out with the tying run on second, and Jose Mesa closed out the Orioles in the ninth.

"He didn't make the call until after I tumbled," Tarasco said. "It's tough. We're swinging the bats hard. Maybe we just need a little luck."

Said Mussina: "I came in here [to the clubhouse after getting pulled] and the guys on the Cleveland TV were saying it looked like Tony caught the ball. If they say that, I have to believe he did. But what are you going to do? They only had three umpires. And I made some bad pitches."

The players dressed and headed for the bus and a late-night flight to Kansas City, where their losing streak figures to end against the weak Royals.

They're still in first place because the Yankees lost, but they've lost any cushion they built with their 11-2 start.

"Everything we do now seems to be just wrong enough for us to lose," Mussina said.

The clubhouse was awfully quiet for April.

As quiet as a snowfall.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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