More needed from Mussina in a pinch

September 20, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

NEW YORK -- The big question entering yesterday's doubleheader was how the two aces would respond coming off their abbreviated starts in Tuesday night's rainout.

David Cone showed so much grit, Yankees manager Joe Torre stuck with him too long and blew a 6-1 lead in the nightcap.

But Mike Mussina was so ineffective in the opener, it might change the way the Orioles perceive him forever.

Coming off a crushing 10-inning loss Wednesday night, the Orioles needed Mussina to come up big, and set the tone for the doubleheader.

But Mussina showed nothing.

He lasted only two innings, throwing 55 pitches, allowing three hits and five walks, looking not the least bit comfortable.

Just like that, the Orioles were in a 3-0 hole. They wound up using five relievers, falling behind, 8-0, and losing, 9-3.

The loss all but eliminated them from the AL East race, dropping them five games behind the Yankees with 11 games to play.

It all could be forgotten if the Orioles hold on for the wild card. Then again, it all might seem that much more meaningful if they don't.

This was Mussina's game.

And his dismal performance raised questions about his long-term future with the Orioles.

Mussina is a tremendous competitor, but he prefers to work under ideal circumstances, and in a pennant race that's not always possible.

He threw 16 pitches in Tuesday's rainout, and didn't seem enthusiastic about returning to the mound so quickly.

"He was just uncomfortable coming back," manager Davey Johnson said. "It broke up the normal routine for him.

"He handled the three days rest pretty good a few times, then complained of stiffness, and we backed off with him. Maybe this was asking too much."

Perhaps, but Mussina also blew a 2-0 lead in his previous start against Chicago, allowing six runs in 3 2/3 innings.

He's 13-6 lifetime in September, but this is his first experience pitching in games of this magnitude.

The Orioles need more.

It's the time of year when a team asks more from its ace. Cone has been through it. So has Orel Hershiser. So has Randy Johnson.

At 180 pounds, perhaps Mussina isn't strong enough to carry such a load. But if that's the case, the Orioles need to find another front-line starter.

Mussina has the highest winning percentage among active major leaguers (.687). He has thrown 228 1/3 innings this season. He's a legitimate ace.

But it's possible the Orioles will think twice now about signing him to a long-term contract. Counting the rainout, Archie Corbin threw as many innings as Mussina in this series.

The amazing thing is, yesterday could have been worse.

Mussina escaped a first-and-second, none-out jam in the first when Paul O'Neill struck out, the Yankees ran into an out and Tino Martinez struck out.

It appeared he would do the same in the second, getting two outs after walking the first two hitters. But he never found his command.

Two-run single by Derek Jeter.

Walk to Raines.

RBI single by Wade Boggs.

Walk to O'Neill.

Mussina finally retired Martinez on a fly to right for the final out, but he didn't come out for the third inning.

Johnson told him, "Moose, I'm not going to take a chance of setting you back. You've had a great year. You're our ace. I can't let this one game override the rest of the year."

Still, how could Johnson have felt when Cone, coming off surgery to remove an aneurysm in his right arm, worked into the sixth inning in the nightcap?

Mussina resisted Johnson's plan to use a four-man rotation, then went along reluctantly. It's understandable that he's protective of his arm. But at what point must he put the team ahead of his own interests?

Randy Myers doesn't get everything he wants. Neither did Cal Ripken this season, nor Bobby Bonilla. Mussina is different because his concern is physical. But again, if he can't handle it, tTC then the Orioles might need to find someone else.

They sent out their two best pitchers last night, but Kenny Rogers, suffering from inflammation in his left shoulder, lasted as many innings in Game 1 as Mussina and David Wells combined.

The Orioles need more.

Crazy as it sounds, the Orioles might need to find a September horse.

Wild-card rules

How to determine the matchups for the first round of the American League playoffs:

The Central and West champions will have home-field advantage.

The better record of the Central and West champions will play the wild card.

If the wild card comes from the Central or West, it will play the champion not in its division.

The Central and West champions will not meet.

Scenarios

If the wild card is from the East, it would play the team with the best record between the Central and West champions. The East champion would play the other division champion.

If the wild card is from the Central, it would play the West champion. The East champion would play the Central champion.

If the wild card is from the West, it would play the Central champion. The West champ would play the East champion.

Pub Date: 9/20/96

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