Mussina gives O's 1st shutout, 6-0 Strikes out 11 Tigers, gives bullpen a break with 19th win of year

Bonilla HR keys 4-run 1st

Orioles gain on Yanks

back at 9 over .500

September 08, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

Driving home at 2:30 yesterday morning after the Orioles' extra-inning loss to Detroit, Mike Mussina realized the importance of his next start, which would begin in 16 1/2 hours. The Orioles needed a victory and the bullpen needed a rest.

Mussina provided both, pitching a complete-game shutout, 6-0, before 47,131 at Camden Yards, the first shutout of the year by the Orioles. Mussina (19-9) struck out a season-high 11, and in the first two games of the series against the Tigers, he and David Wells, the Orioles starter Friday, have struck out 22 and walked one.

"Mike was just outstanding from the first pitch," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson. "The first shutout couldn't have come at a better time."

Mussina, benefiting from an extra day of rest, said, "If we go to the wild card, or win the Eastern Division, I don't care if we don't shut out anybody all year."

Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla each drove in two runs and for the ninth time this year, the Orioles (75-66) are nine games over .500. They have never been 10 games over .500. The Orioles picked up a game on the New York Yankees, who lead the AL East race by four games, and remained one game behind Chicago in the wild-card race.

The Orioles will avoid the ignominy of joining the 1993 Colorado Rockies as the only 20th-century team to go an entire season without throwing a shutout. The Orioles' last shutout came on the final day of the 1995 season, when Mussina shut out the Tigers on two hits.

He was never in trouble in that game and wasn't last night, either. Mussina needed only 79 pitches to get through the first seven innings, as the Tigers aggressively swung and missed or made poor contact. Mussina didn't throw a called strike from the second inning until the seventh, a span of 14 hitters.

"Part of pitching shutouts and throwing a good game is, when they guess, they guess wrong," said Mussina. "I dropped some curveballs in there and they took it."

The Tigers drew only one walk, and didn't have a runner in scoring position until the fourth inning. The biggest rally came in the eighth, runners at first and second and two out, and Mussina threw two nasty knuckle-curves to Alan Trammell for his ninth strikeout.

"That was the best curveball of the night," said Johnson.

Which? "Both," Johnson replied.

Mussina could work a little more aggressively after the Orioles scored four quick runs for him in the first.

The Orioles have relied on their home runs to generate offense all season, a trend that has become even more pronounced in these final weeks. The Orioles didn't have a single hit with runners in scoring position in four of their last five games before last night, and had only seven hits in 59 at-bats (.119) with runners in scoring position over their last 10 games.

Twenty-nine of their last 41 runs had come on homers, and the Orioles had attempted stolen bases in only two of their last 11 games. They are numbers that correlate to slumps of their two best contact hitters, Roberto Alomar and B. J. Surhoff, who struggled through Friday night's loss -- Alomar struck out three times, for the first time this season, and Surhoff, for the 14th time in the last 15 games, did not drive in a run.

Johnson, bleary-eyed himself from the long flight from the West Coast Thursday morning and the late-night production Friday night, chose to rest Alomar and Surhoff yesterday. In their place, he played Pete Incaviglia and Bill Ripken in an effort to stack a right-handed lineup against young Detroit left-hander Justin Thompson, who came in with sterling early reviews: Good fastball, good changeup, terrific poise.

And the Orioles did all they could to tarnish Thompson's reputation. Todd Zeile swung through a straight changeup early in his at-bat, but smacked a single over shortstop. Cal Ripken, having seen the Tigers shift their infield defense dramatically to the left Friday night, hit a ground single to right, and Zeile stopped at second.

Thompson tried to run a high-and-inside fastball past Palmeiro, but the Orioles first baseman got his hands up and drove the ball in the left-center-field gap. Zeile scored easily and, as Travis Fryman's relay sailed high and away, Ripken scored standing.

The Orioles had Thompson in trouble now, two runs in and only one out, and he threw a fastball to Bonilla with his first pitch, a ball. Thompson came back with a changeup; Bonilla, staying back, maintaining his balance, reached out and hit a low liner to left that fell into the stands, his 25th homer. No wonder Seattle manager Lou Piniella suspected cork.

Five batters into the Orioles lineup, Thompson trailed 4-0.

The Orioles scored two in the eighth, with Brady Anderson driving in Bill Ripken for his 100th RBI of the year.

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