What looked to be a favorable mismatch for the white-hot Orioles last night turned instead into something unexpected, such as a loss to the inspired Oakland Athletics and their mystery starting pitcher, Andrew Lorraine.
A frustrating offensive letdown coupled with a unusually fitful start by Mike Mussina brought a 4-2 defeat before 46,808 at Camden Yards. The loss was only the Orioles' fifth in their last 20 games and dropped their AL East lead over the New York Yankees to 4 1/2 games.
"That's why managers have gray hair and ulcers," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said.
Chris Hoiles was hit by a pitch and Harold Baines had an infield single in the Orioles' ninth, but Brady Anderson's bid for a game-winning home run was caught a few feet in front of the 410-foot sign in center field for the second out. Jeff Reboulet grounded out to end the game.
The Orioles (73-42) managed two runs and six hits in five innings against Lorraine, who despite his unimpressive resume was able to get outs at critical times. Mussina (13-5) struggled with his control within the strike zone, resulting in three home runs that accounted for all the scoring for the last-place A's, who spoke of being "embarrassed" by the first-place Orioles running up the score in an 8-0 win the night before.
"The difference tonight was we got better pitching. Once we got the lead, our pitchers did the rest," Oakland manager Art Howe said.
Last night's loss was only the Orioles rotation's second in the past 20 games. In that span the Orioles have not allowed more than five runs. However, last night marked the fifth time in his past 11 starts that Mussina has been backed by two runs or fewer while still in the game.
Lorraine (1-0) gained his first major-league win thanks to four shutout innings from relievers T. J. Mathews, Buddy Groom, Aaron Small and Billy Taylor. The Orioles were sent away scratching their heads. As a follow-up tonight they face the Seattle Mariners and Randy Johnson, who they have beaten once and fought to a no-decision in a second game this season.
After Tuesday's onslaught, the Orioles couldn't get after Lorraine, who was making his first major-league start this season and only the fourth of a career that had taken him to the California Angels in 1994 and the Chicago White Sox in 1995. Lorraine produced an 8.44 ERA in nine major-league appearances but had earned another chance by going 4-0 with a 1.54 ERA in his last five starts at Triple-A Edmonton.
Lorraine held down a lineup that had been batting .288 with 11 home runs in nine games this month. The Orioles stranded six runners against him, including three in scoring position.
"The first three innings I wasn't throwing a whole lot of good pitches," Lorraine said. "But it seemed like I pulled out the one pitch I needed whenever I had to. After that, I just picked up steam."
While Lorraine was shockingly effective, Mussina was uncharacteristically vulnerable against a lineup filled with role players and minor-league call-ups.
Making his 25th start of the season, Mussina entered riding five consecutive quality starts, a three-game winning streak and had surrendered three earned runs or fewer in 13 of his previous 15 outings. He had gone no less than six innings in any of those starts.
In three earlier starts against the A's, he had crafted a 2.79 ERA and a 2-0 record in 19 1/3 innings. In 18 career starts, Mussina was 12-3 vs. Oakland.
"I thought I had pretty good stuff, but I made some bad pitches when I got behind in the count," Mussina said. "That's going to happen once in a while."
Before last night, the Orioles had thoroughly stuffed the A's, winning eight of 10 while holding them to a .186 batting average, 19 runs and only four home runs in 91 innings. Conversely, the Orioles had battered the A's league-worst pitching for a .298 average and a .507 slugging percentage. Only the Philadelphia Phillies had been bruised worse by the Orioles.
But the A's and Howe attached more significance to this game than any other this season against the Orioles.
Neither dugout backed down from the angry words they exchanged during Tuesday night's 8-0 Orioles' win. Howe remained irritated by Reboulet stealing second base with the Orioles leading 7-0; Johnson sniped that Howe should have held the runner.
Motivation, indeed. The sad-sack A's had traded slugger Mark McGwire, hit only nine home runs, been shut out six times, averaged 2.5 runs and batted just .219 in 21 games since July 19. They hadn't scored more than five runs in a game since then while Orioles pitching hadn't allowed more than five since July 20.
Yet against Mussina the A's went into serious hack mode. The game's third batter, second baseman Mark Bellhorn, put his team ahead 2-0 when he crushed Mussina's first pitch for his fourth home run. Bellhorn was recalled from Edmonton only last Thursday as a replacement for the injured Scott Brosius.