O's: From bad to Mussina's worst, 9-8 Ace yields all runs as losing streak hits 6

Bad call adds to frustration

Ramirez, Belle hit 3-run HRs as Indians withstand comeback

April 24, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND -- An ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts lay next to Mike Mussina's locker last night, after the Orioles lost their sixth straight game.

"I've taken up smoking," Mussina said, deadpan. Gallows humor -- Mussina doesn't smoke, the ashtray belonged to someone else -- that is quite appropriate for the times.

The Orioles could blame the 16-degree wind-chill. They could blame first base umpire Tim Tschida. But really, they have only themselves to blame for the 9-8 loss to the Cleveland Indians.

The Orioles had a sizable lead early, their ace Mussina pitching, and they lost. They are scoring runs, lots of them, but never enough for a slumping pitching staff. Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle each hit three-run homers for the Indians.

"Everything we do now seems to be just wrong enough for us to lose," Mussina said. The only thing that went right for the Orioles occurred about 1,000 miles away in Kansas City, Mo., where the Royals broke their own losing streak to beat the New York Yankees. The Orioles' one-game lead remains intact. For now.

Today and tomorrow, the Orioles play the Royals, the sacrificial lambs of the AL, a series that couldn't have come at a better time for a team starving for a victory. For 3 1/2 innings last night, it seemed like that losing streak would end.

Bobby Bonilla broke a scoreless tie with a two-run homer in the fourth and, two batters later, Cal Ripken drove in B. J. Surhoff and the Orioles led 3-0. A three-run advantage, Mussina on the mound, showing good stuff through the first three innings. A sure thing, a gimme. You wouldn't have blamed the Orioles if they were thinking these things on a cold night, after five straight days of misery.

The Indians were hitless two batters into the fourth inning,

Mussina in complete control. But Carlos Baerga singled. Mussina pitched around Belle, walking him. Eddie Murray doubled inside the third base line, scoring a run.

With Ramirez, the Indians' talented but undisciplined hitter, at the plate, Mussina looked to throw a fastball away, to make Ramirez chase. But Mussina threw the ball up and in and Ramirez crushed it, to the opposite field, a three-run homer. The sure thing -- Mussina pitching with a three-run lead -- had evaporated, all with two outs.

"I just made a bad pitch," Mussina said.

The Orioles came back, as they always do, tying the score in the fifth on an RBI single by Roberto Alomar. They knocked out Indians starter Albie Lopez.

Right away, the Indians fired back. A single by Sandy Alomar, an RBI double by Omar Vizquel, a bunt single by Kenny Lofton and a sacrifice fly by Julio Franco. Orioles manager Davey Johnson sat and watched in his heavy winter parka, occasionally staring down at the dugout floor, averting his eyes from the horror.

The Indians scored three more runs in the seventh, helped along by the umpire's gaffe. Two outs and Franco hit a sinking liner to right. Tony Tarasco rushed in and dove, and as he rolled over, he showed his glove to Tschida. Indisputable evidence.

The ump waved his arms parallel to the ground: Safe. Tarasco ran in to return the ball to the infield and challenged Tschida. "I was saying, 'What, are you crazy?' " Tarasco said later.

Johnson emerged from the dugout to pursue the argument, even before Tarasco had started in on Tschida, and when he reached the umpire, he asked him to get help from another umpire. "You must've had a bad angle, because I could see it," Johnson said he told the ump.

But circumstances worked against the Orioles. Don Denkinger, the umpire who was supposed to be at second base, sat out the game with a pulled muscle, and Tschida had the last word. "He told me he couldn't [check with another ump] because he was the closest," Johnson said.

The Orioles had a legitimate gripe. Replays showed Tarasco had made the catch, making what occurred subsequently all the more frustrating.

Baerga rolled a single, and then Belle hit a monster home run over the center-field wall, his seventh of the year. "I was like, 'Oh, man!' " Belle said.

Johnson walked out to relieve Mussina from one of the worst starts of his career; never before had he allowed nine runs.

The Orioles came back again, in the eighth. They always come back. Chris Hoiles hit a two-run double, Jeffrey Hammonds drove in a run, and Brady Anderson doubled off the left-field wall, extending his hitting streak to 10 games.

Four runs across, but one run short. Jose Mesa retired the Orioles in order in the ninth, and the Indians had avenged their two losses in Camden Yards earlier this month, on a night when they started a rookie against the Orioles' ace.

"If [Tschida] makes that out call, then we win," said Tarasco. But he paused for a second, probably realizing how the Orioles had lost this game -- seven runs scored with two outs.

"I'm not pointing the finger at anyone," Tarasco said, amending his comments. "We just didn't score enough."

No, they scored plenty. A three-run lead. Mussina on the mound. A sure thing.

Maybe not.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Kansas City Royals

Site: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.

Time: 8: 05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Kent Mercker (1-1, 9.00) vs. Royals' Chris Haney (0-3, 3.91)

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