Sox crash Orioles' party, 11-3 Fernandez's 3-hitter, listless play pops O's 5-game bubble

Mussina forced out in 4th

Chicago 1/2 -game back

Yanks' lead now 3 1/2

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

With so much at stake, a playoff berth, the idea of the Orioles reverting back to their form of May and June seemed preposterous. Guys not running hard? Lack of intensity? Impossible.

But for whatever reason, the Orioles played the first five innings of last night's game as if they were out of any race and merely finishing out their schedule, and the lethargy cost them. The White Sox foiled Mike Mussina's first attempt to win his 20th game, knocking out the Orioles' ace in the fourth inning in an 11-3 Chicago victory, before 47,342.

Chicago, getting a three-hit, complete-game performance from Alex Fernandez, climbed to within a half-game of the Orioles in the American League wild-card standings. The New York Yankees improved their lead over the Orioles to 3 1/2 games in the AL East.

Mussina (19-10) allowed eight hits and six runs over 3 2/3 innings, giving up homers to Pat Borders and Danny Tartabull.

"I didn't give us a chance," Mussina said afterward.

Orioles manager Davey Johnson wasn't full of compliments, either.

"I thought [Mussina's] pitch selection was terrible," he said. "When you jump out 2-0, and they put four up there, I don't care how much enthusiasm you have, that takes the wind out of your sails."

Riding a five-game winning streak, the Orioles started so well last night, in search of their first three-game sweep of a team over .500 this year.

Brady Anderson led off the bottom of the first inning with a walk and Roberto Alomar hammered a liner that fell on top of the right-field wall, a two-run homer. Todd Zeile ripped a shot to right, all the way to the wall, that Danny Tartabull missed, and Zeile hustled into third on the three-base error.

Rafael Palmeiro blasted a long foul to right, and at that moment, there seemed no possible way the Orioles would lose this game. They were pounding everything thrown by Fernandez, they had a 2-0 lead, they had momentum, playing their best baseball since April, and above all, they had Mussina on the mound going for his 20th victory. This was an absolute lock.

But good pitchers are good pitchers because they make quick adjustments, and Fernandez is a good pitcher. (The right-hander, who struck out 10 and walked two, has five of Chicago's six complete games.) He struck out Palmeiro, Bobby Bonilla and Cal Ripken in order, and the Orioles never did take advantage of the three-base error. Nonetheless, they had all those things going for them.

And everything changed. The Orioles collapsed, like the Tigers collapse, like the Mets collapse.

Tartabull singled to open the top of the second, and Harold Baines singled, with Tartabull stopping at second. There was nobody out, and Mussina got Dave Martinez to pop up into foul territory on the third base side, 40 or 50 feet from the bag.

Zeile ran over toward the stands, slowed down, looked over his shoulder, twisted another 90 degrees so that he had almost done a complete circle and was facing the field, and tried to make an over-the-shoulder basket catch. It looked like Willie Mays' immortal catch in the 1954 World Series, except this pop wasn't far from third, and the ball dropped.

Whether Zeile simply lost the ball or Ripken -- who had a better angle coming from shortstop -- didn't take charge and catch the ball, as he usually does, was irrelevant to Mussina. (No error was given on the play.)

What mattered was that Martinez had another swing against a pitcher he had a .417 average against (5-for-12), and Martinez singled up the middle and Tartabull scored.

White Sox catcher Pat Borders, hitting .231, was due to bat and the Orioles had reason to believe he would be bunting; Borders has three sacrifice bunts, and the White Sox needed to advance both runners into scoring position.

Maybe that's why Mussina threw him a horrendous pitch to Borders (1-for-10 in his career against the Orioles ace), a waist-high fastball, right down the middle. Borders bashed it into the left-field stands, and Chicago led 4-2.

The Orioles might've fought and scrapped and come back, something they've done repeatedly this year. Didn't happen.

"You're going to look lethargic when you get three hits," Johnson said. "The guy [Fernandez] is one of the best pitchers in the league."

A strong crosswind, signaling an approaching storm, began blowing in from left-center field in the top of the third, and the White Sox took advantage of this.

Tartabull slammed a homer to right, the ball rising up and carrying into the right-field stands, pushed by the wind. Baines hit a double off the very top edge of the right-center field wall -- about as far as a ball can be hit without going out. Archie Corbin began warming up in the Orioles bullpen.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.