Early Punch, Mussina Deck Chicago, 3-2

Palmeiro, Davis Homer In 1st

Orioles Hold On For Another Stingy Win

Bordick Gem Prevents Tie

O's Have Scored 3 Runs Or Less 3 Of Last 4 Wins

April 23, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

The Orioles once again proved last night that they are a changed team. Given only three early runs, they rode another splendid performance by Mike Mussina and a nerveless bullpen to take out the Chicago White Sox, 3-2.

It is not yet clubhouse chic to gush over this club's superiority to last year's. But in overcoming a strong performance by White Sox starter Danny Darwin, they rose to 12-4 while suggesting that offensive downturns won't necessarily coincide with lengthy losing streaks.

"It's a little too early to worry about numbers, but we're playing good," manager Davey Johnson said. "We're playing good defense. We're not beating ourselves. Good pitching goes a long way."

Buttressed by Mussina's strong seven innings, Orioles starters have allowed two earned runs or fewer in eight of their last 10 outings, compiling a 2.77 ERA.

Mussina has been a major part of it. In his last three outings, all wins, he has allowed three earned runs in 22 innings, a 1.36 ERA. Of the Orioles' last four wins, three have been sculpted with three runs or less.

Mussina and a three-man tag team made the Orioles' three-run first stand up, with a big assist from shortstop Mike Bordick, whose diving play prevented the tying run. Randy Myers pitched a scoreless ninth for his eighth save.

Back-to-back home runs by Rafael Palmeiro and Eric Davis provided the night's only firepower. But it was enough in a game owned by Mussina (3-1).

His opponent, Darwin, came into the game a hunch player's dream. He was 4-0 with a 1.61 ERA in 28 innings at Camden Yards. Though beaten by Mussina last week, he had controlled the Orioles in a 106-pitch, nine-hit, complete-game performance.

That performance drew an assist from arctic conditions. Last night, the Orioles didn't need parkas in the on-deck circle or hand-warmers beneath their gloves. Three hitters into the first inning, Darwin found himself trailing. After four hitters, he'd surrendered two home runs and was down 3-0.

The Orioles broke a cold-weather funk thanks to Palmeiro's fifth home run and Davis' first. Following a walk to Roberto Alomar, Palmeiro pulled his fifth home run into his favorite touch-down point above the right-field scoreboard inside the foul pole.

Two pitches later, Davis signaled his return from six days of inactivity with a homer into the left-field stands. The home run was Davis' first in 37 at-bats.

Johnson covets Davis batting cleanup. There, Davis' speed serves as a deterrent to those who might pitch around Palmeiro.

Meanwhile, Mussina's performance should serve as a deterrent to anyone considering bold predictions against him.

Following last week's performance at Comiskey Park, White Sox manager Terry Bevington cited Mussina's career struggles against the Sox, saying, "Mussina usually pitches really good against us once a year, then we go out and get him."

Get this: The White Sox pushed only two runners past first base through five innings as Mussina struck out four against only one walk.

Mussina shattered at least four bats, froze hitters and for a second straight game overwhelmed nemesis Frank Thomas. Thomas entered the season hitting a career .556 with six home runs against Mussina. Thomas was 0-for-3 vs. Mussina April 17. Last night he struck out in his first two at-bats, once taking, the other blown away by a fastball away.

"Teams struggle at times during the year. When Frank is struggling, they're going to struggle," Mussina said of the 5-14 White Sox. "When Frank and Albert [Belle] are struggling, they're really, really going to struggle. You know there's going to be a time when they're scoring seven or eight runs a game. I hope we're not playing them at that time."

With little assistance from either Thomas or Belle, the White Sox finally broke through with two outs in the sixth inning. They all but erased Mussina's lead before being stymied by a defensive highlight.

Ray Durham had begun the inning with a double into the right-field corner. He took third on Thomas' groundout and scored on Belle's grounder to short. The run snapped Mussina's run of 17 consecutive scoreless innings. (Jimmy Key had a similar run broken Sunday.)

But the bleeding didn't stop there. Harold Baines, Lyle Mouton and Dave Martinez produced three consecutive singles, scoring Baines and putting the tying run at third base with the Orioles' bullpen still inactive.

For a second, the White Sox looked to have forced a tie when Ron Karkovice scorched a one-hopper to the right of Bordick. However, the shortstop dove to spear the shot, raised to his knees and forced the speedy Martinez at second.

The Orioles are still waiting for Bordick to find himself offensively. He's without an RBI and was in a 2-for-21 slump when faced with Karkovice's slash. Bordick is also a major reason why the Orioles infield is without a defensive equal in the league.

"If I can't drive in any runs," he said afterward, "I might as well stop a few from scoring."

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