Jays double pleasure, rip Mussina, 6-0 Overcome O's nemesis with 7 doubles

Guzman throws 5-hit shutout

Mussina denies arm sore

Alexander struggles in field in second start

July 17, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Nothing is the same at Camden Yards. Cal Ripken is the third baseman, Manny Alexander is the shortstop, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat up on Orioles ace Mike Mussina.

Toronto had seven doubles among 12 hits against Mussina, and Juan Guzman shut out the Orioles on five hits, 6-0, before 45,851. With the loss, the Orioles dropped back to 10 games behind the Yankees in the American League East; New York beat Boston, 9-5.

Alexander had a rough night, hardly a surprise given his three months of riding the bench and watching everybody else play. Alexander went through his first start Monday without a fielding chance, but he was severely tested last night.

"He hasn't played out there," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson. "It's possible he's pressing. When I talked to him, I just told him to relax and play aggressively."

When Toronto shortstop Alex Gonzalez tried stealing second in the second inning, Alexander failed to cover the base and Chris Hoiles' throw bounced into center field. But the play ended with second baseman Jeff Huson recovering Hoiles' throw and gunning down Gonzalez at home plate.

"He was given coverages and didn't cover," Johnson said. "That's what we call in baseball 'vapor lock.' "

Alexander, who wasn't available for comment after the game, successfully fielded his first grounder to end the third inning, gunning out Shawn Green. In the top of the fifth, however, Blue Jays designated hitter Carlos Delgado hit a high pop down the left-field line. Alexander raced out and was in a position to make the play -- then veered off as left fielder Luis Polonia neared. The ball fell in, but again the Orioles escaped when Polonia recovered and threw out Delgado at second.

"He did a heck of a job getting there," Johnson said. "I think he could've caught the ball."

In the sixth inning, with a runner on first, Alexander took a throw from Huson at the start of a potential double play. But he dropped the ball as he prepared to throw to first; second base umpire Jim Evans ruled he had made the catch and gotten the force before losing control.

At the plate, Alexander went 1-for-3, with a bloop single and a strikeout. In his last at-bat, Alexander tried bunting toward first base and popped the ball up the line. As he ran to first, the ball landed on the back of his right leg and he was called out.

"Keep in mind that it's been a long time since Manny played," Johnson said.

Ripken, whose streak of 2,216 straight starts at shortstop ended Monday, fielded four grounders easily. On two of the four, he ranged far to his left to field grounders in front of Alexander, then threw across his body to first for outs. He went 0-for-4 at the plate and is hitless in his two games at third.

But it really didn't matter how well Ripken or Alexander played, considering how well Guzman threw in his second career shutout. "When he pitches the way he pitched," said Mussina, "I could've been at my best and he still might've won 1-0 or 2-0."

There are nights when Mussina has a live fastball, when he can throw that fastball to the webbing of a glove, and mixes in his changeup and curve to maximum effect.

Last night was not one of those nights. He threw strikes, but for three innings could not pinpoint his fastball to the outside or inside of the strike zone. Often he would throw to the corner and the ball would drift across the plate and the Blue Jays would hammer away. The first 17 Toronto hitters had a whopping six doubles, balls ripped to the left-field and right-field corners, and the Blue Jays built a 5-0 lead in the first three innings. Toronto would finish with eight doubles in all. (It is not yet known whether this is some sort of a record.)

Mussina got through seven innings, but with a pitching line full of crooked numbers. Twelve hits, three walks, three strikeouts, five runs, all earned. Mussina (11-7) started the year 8-2, but has lost five of his last eight decisions.

Mussina losing to Toronto at Camden Yards is about as odd as Ripken playing third. Going into last night's game, Mussina had a 6-1 record with a 1.87 ERA against Toronto during his career, and a 4-0 record with a 1.10 ERA in Camden Yards. He gave up more earned runs (five) to Toronto in last night's home start than he had in all of his other starts combined (four).

"I made some bad pitches," Mussina said. "I got the ball up a few times, and they got some hits. . . . I'm struggling, and not having the year I'd hope to have or that I've had in the past."

One baseball commentator has reported twice that Mussina is not healthy, that there's been something wrong with his arm since spring training. This he denies flatly, and Johnson noted that Mussina hasn't had any medical treatment above and beyond the normal maintenance this year.

"My arm doesn't hurt," Mussina said. "It really doesn't."

He does believe his velocity has been down at times, but doesn't see that as anything chronic. There have been games this year when he's thrown as hard as he had in the past, suggesting his lack of velocity (and his control problems, for that matter) may be related to flaws in his pitching mechanics.

"I know I can throw the ball harder," Mussina said. "But that doesn't mean throwing harder is better."

Throwing hard is better, with good location and good movement. In the first three innings last night, Mussina didn't have any of those things.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays

Site: Oriole Park

Time: 7: 35 TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Blue Jays' Erik Hanson (8-11, 6.55) vs. Orioles' Kent Mercker (3-6, 7.20)

Tickets: 4,400 remain

Pub Date: 7/17/96

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