Mussina aces test, shuts down Texas Stopper wins first, allows just three hits in Orioles' 9-3 victory

Palmeiro hits 2 long HRs

Alomar excels again in field, at the plate

April 12, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Last night, Mike Mussina found himself squarely on The Spot. He removed himself in impressive fashion.

Asked to convince a Camden Yards crowd of 40,575, Orioles management and most importantly himself that he is a sound pitcher, Mussina answered with a commanding seven innings to steer his team to a 9-3 win over the Texas Rangers. This was not an exercise in hope but rather a display of confidence.

If last Sunday's four-inning blowout loss to the Rangers was cause for concern, this was reason for guarded optimism. Mussina overwhelmed a powerful lineup, allowing only three hits, two walks and one runner past second base while striking out four. In getting his first win of 1997, he lowered his ERA from 15.75 to 5.73.

There was no cause to question Mussina's single-mindedness. He tiptoed around no one, facing the minimum three batters in five innings.

"I have no reason to be concerned at any time. You can set aside other things and concentrate on what you need to be doing," he said.

This season, Mussina will not enjoy the luxury of a throwaway start. Every performance will be placed in the context of his being a two-time 19-game winner slowed two weeks ago by calcium deposits in his elbow and currently in a holding pattern regarding a contract extension.

Mussina acknowledged feeling apprehensive about throwing with maximum effort last Sunday. His fastball got him nowhere. Last night, it set up everything.

"If I was out there pitching thinking I had to have success before I felt good about it, I'd still be picking and trying to be too cautious," Mussina said. "I felt fine on the side [Tuesday]. I felt fine warming up today.

"You go into it with the attitude that you're going after it. That's the way I went about it. The other day in Texas I really didn't have that feeling because I wasn't sure what I had and if everything was going to hold together.

"Today it was a little different mentality. I felt better coming to the park. I felt the way I used to feel coming to the park. That was the difference between this game and the last game."

Said manager Davey Johnson, ecstatic over the longest outing by an Orioles starter this season: "You could tell just looking at Mike how he's feeling. It's always good to have a very good ballgame and seven good innings."

Offensively, the Orioles were a different team, too. They built an early lead and blew it open late on Rafael Palmeiro's two Eutaw Street home runs in the seventh in eighth innings. He became the first to reach Eutaw Street twice in the same game and his blasts were the 13th and 14th overall to land over the fence in right.

The Orioles wasted no time getting after Rangers starter John Burkett, who had controlled them for nearly six innings before the Orioles rallied against the Rangers' bullpen for a 5-4 win April 4. Rather than blindly attack Burkett, they committed themselves to taking him to the opposite field. The payoff was 10 hits in Burkett's 5 1/3 innings.

Burkett escaped a dangerous first inning with one run allowed, but stumbled again in the second.

Starting the night with a collective .145 average, the bottom third of the lineup -- Jeffrey Hammonds, Chris Hoiles and Mike Bordick -- loaded the bases with three consecutive two-out singles. Brady Anderson worked Burkett for an RBI walk and Roberto Alomar followed with a run-scoring single to left field.

Alomar's presence may have factored in Mussina's heightened confidence. Besides reaching base in his first three plate appearances, Alomar played a brilliant second base. His backup of Palmeiro's second-inning flub saved an error. He teamed with Bordick on their second double play to quell the fourth inning. Most impressively, Alomar hauled in Mickey Tettleton's foul pop while running away from the plate in the fifth.

Still, Mussina's performance was rivaled only by that of Palmeiro, who turned a difficult first five innings into a late-inning power show. His two home runs gave him three in his past seven at-bats and detonated a 4-1 game.

Palmeiro's four RBIs came after Mussina's exit, however. Though he led throughout, Mussina never pitched with more than a three-run cushion. Each of Palmeiro's four home runs this season have come from the seventh inning on.

"It's no big deal. It's important that we won," Palmeiro said. "I don't worry about what I do or don't do. Once it's done, it's done."

The same philosophy could be attributed to Mussina. There is no guarantee his condition won't flare anew. X-rays first revealed the condition while he was at Stanford. Rather than sound concerned about a recurrence, Mussina said defiantly, "Even if it acts up again it's not going to prevent me from going out there."

Orioles today

Opponent: Texas Rangers

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 1: 35 p.m.

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Rangers' Darren Oliver (0-1, 13.50) vs. Orioles' Jimmy Key (1-0, 2.25)

Tickets: 5,000 available

Pub Date: 4/12/97

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