Mussina comes up empty on short rest 5 walks give Yankees early jump in big game

September 20, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Mike Mussina had thrown only three or four pitches in the first inning of the first game of the Orioles-New York Yankees doubleheader yesterday before a couple of scouts sitting in the stands behind home plate knew he was going to have a bad day.

Mussina's first five pitches were breaking balls and changeups -- a sign his fastball wasn't very good -- and Mussina wasn't throwing strikes. If the scouts knew, imagine what must've been going through the mind of Orioles manager Davey Johnson, as he watched his ace flounder in the first inning of a pivotal late-season game.

Mussina lasted only two innings in one of the most important games of his relatively young career, and after the Yankees pinned the Orioles with three early-inning runs, they never let them up. The Yankees' Kenny Rogers, supposedly hampered by a sore arm and whose status was questionable right up until the start of the series, pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings for a 9-3 victory.

Mussina warmed up to start Tuesday, and threw 16 pitches before crew chief Joe Brinkman, pointing through a downpour, waved the players off the field. Johnson and pitching coach Pat Dobson both expressed the hope that Mussina would be able to start either game of yesterday's doubleheader; they wanted their best pitcher to throw in the Orioles' biggest series of the year.

Mussina wasn't sure if he'd be OK, telling reporters he'd wait until Wednesday before seeing if he was stiff and be able to pitch; maybe, Mussina suggested, he'd be ready to come back Friday or Saturday. Finally, after Wednesday night's loss, Johnson conferred with Mussina and they agreed he'd pitch the first game of yesterday's doubleheader.

There's no telling whether Mussina felt fatigued when he took the mound, or if he just pitched poorly, or if he felt overwhelmed by the circumstances; Mussina declined a request to speak to reporters between games of the doubleheader. Whatever the reasons, he pitched terribly in a game the Orioles had to win to stay in serious contention for the AL East title.

"It was obvious Moose didn't have too much," said Johnson.

Watching Mussina throw the first inning against the Yankees was like watching a toddler grab for the tail of a sleeping cat. The way he repeatedly fell behind in the count with his subpar fastball, it was only a matter of time before he would get hurt.

Mussina walked Yankees leadoff hitter Tim Raines, and Wade Boggs -- who would go 4-for-4 -- singled. But the Yankees botched the rally when Paul O'Neill swung through a two-strike pitch, and Raines was thrown out trying to steal third.

But there would be no escaping the second inning. Mussina, who began the day ranked fourth in the AL in fewest walks per nine innings, walked Bernie Williams to open the inning, and walked Darryl Strawberry after that.

Mussina, taking lots of time between pitches, threw a ball to the next hitter, Mariano Duncan, and pitching coach Pat Dobson emerged from the dugout and called time. When he reached Mussina, Dobson, two inches taller than the pitcher anyway, stood on the crest of the mound and spoke down to Mussina, who was on the side of the mound. Dobson talked at length, nodding his head to put emphasis behind his words, and Mussina looked away. This was no friendly chat.

Mussina threw harder after that, and briefly, with more effectiveness, retiring Duncan on a grounder to first and striking out Jim Leyritz. But Yankees rookie shortstop Derek Jeter chopped a single through the middle, scoring two runs, and then Mussina fell apart.

He walked Raines, gave up an RBI single to Boggs, walked O'Neill -- the fifth allowed by Mussina -- and finally got out of the inning when Bobby Bonilla caught a line drive by Tino Martinez.

Mussina stepped down into the dugout, put on his jacket and walked into the runway. Johnson followed a minute or two later, to tell Mussina he was finished for the day. The white towel, after two rounds of a heavyweight fight.

"Just seeing him labor," Johnson said, "throwing a lot of pitches I don't want to take the chance of setting him back. He was using all of his pitches. He just wasn't throwing them over."

Ace in the hole

Orioles ace Mike Mussina has not pitched well in a big series in August or September in his career. In three such outings, where the Orioles were playing with first-place or the wild-card lead at stake, he has gone 0-3 with a 12.75 ERA.

Date .......... Opp ... IP ... H ... ER ... BB ... SO

8/10/92 ....... Tor. .. 6 1/3 10 .. 8 .... 1 .... 1

9/12/96 ....... Chi. .. 3 2/3 8 ... 6 .... 0 .... 4

9/19/96 ....... N.Y. .. 2 .... 3 ... 3 .... 5 .... 3

Totals ................ 12 ... 21 .. 17 ... 6 .... 8

Pub Date: 9/20/96

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