Mussina, 'pen give O's relief Ace gets 15th victory

3 relievers close out 4-3 win over Brewers

Myers earns 43rd save

Bordick's HR, defense help foil Milwaukee

September 19, 1997|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Needing something big, the Orioles put together a collection of small victories last night, winning a game and reminding themselves of their hidden strengths.

Allowed a lead and an orderly procession behind Mike Mussina, a wandering bullpen showed signs of recovery. Jesse Orosco, ** Armando Benitez and Randy Myers combined for three scoreless innings to salvage Mussina's brave start as the Orioles held off the Milwaukee Brewers for a soothing, 4-3 win.

True, the Orioles have clinched a postseason berth. But with 10 games remaining, they need to rehab several arms, some tired legs and a bit of self-image.

They accomplished some of each against the Brewers as manager Davey Johnson scavenged a win while resting Rafael Palmeiro, B. J. Surhoff and Brady Anderson. The bullpen phone never had to ring for Arthur Rhodes. Myers closed for his 43rd save. And the Orioles again resembled a collection that could boast about its infield defense.

"This is a big win for this club. We were struggling. We needed a win bad," Mussina said. "We've been in this position too long to get to the last 10 games of the season and give it up now."

Combined with the New York Yankees' extra-inning loss to the Detroit Tigers, the Orioles' magic number shriveled to five. The win was only the Orioles' fifth in 13 games and raised them to 4-6 on this homestand.

Mussina has been better, but was still good enough to register his 10th quality start in his last 13 appearances. Shortstop Mike Bordick helped preserve Mussina's decision, hitting his sixth home run to restore a three-run lead then diving to prevent a potential game-tying single in the pivotal seventh inning.

"I was kind of trying to do everything I could because I didn't have my best stuff. I made a couple bad pitches. But I got some runs. I had some plays made behind me," Mussina said.

"Some days you don't get any breaks. Some days you get quite a few. I think we got a couple breaks that made the difference in the game," he added.

This was no Brewers giveaway. Since the Orioles had beaten starter Scott Karl (10-13) on June 24, the left-hander had gone 8-2 in 13 starts and had compiled a 2.90 ERA since the All-Star break, reversing a season that had begun 2-10. But with a lineup including only one left-handed batter, Roberto Alomar, the Orioles grabbed a third-inning lead and never let it go.

They held on because of Orosco's and Benitez's seventh-inning exploits and an unsung play by catcher Chris Hoiles. Mussina was removed after 107 pitches, the last of which walked Jeff Cirillo to begin the seventh. Johnson moved quickly to Orosco, who got Dave Nilsson on a grounder to third before Julio Franco singled up the middle. A stop by Bordick prevented Cirillo from scoring. In a huge at-bat, Orosco then struck out Orioles-basher Jeromy Burnitz, who has flogged Orioles pitching for a .357 average this season.

Jose Valentin approached and Johnson countered with Benitez. With the go-ahead run at second following Franco's unchallenged stolen base, Benitez ended the threat by striking out Valentin on a ball that bounced several inches in front of the plate. A disaster was averted by Hoiles by smothering the pitch and throwing out Valentin on a potentially freakish play.

Aside from his strong defensive play, Bordick juiced the offense with his sixth home run to give Mussina a 4-1 lead. Bordick suffered a brutal August, going 0-for-21 at one stretch, but has recovered with a 21-for-60 (.350) run.

"We've been working hard at it all year, and fortunately this month things are kind of coming together. Hopefully, it continues for the next couple of weeks," said Bordick.

The Orioles also received contributions from third baseman Cal Ripken, who began the day with a mini-tour of local media and ended with a pivotal single and a diving defensive play.

In an interview arranged for him with Home Team Sports, Ripken said his back problems have diminished in recent weeks. Earlier this week Ripken admitted he aggravated the condition during a rain-shortened game in Cleveland last Tuesday.

Ripken, who abstained from putting a percentage on his health Wednesday, described his status yesterday as "80 to 85 percent" and insisted he was in far worse condition in Oakland five weeks ago when he nearly removed himself from a game because of excruciating pain. He feels the issue has been blown out of proportion due to a recent slump that had left him 2-for-26 over his past seven games and 10-for-69 in his last 19 games entering last night.

While not denying he is playing hurt, Ripken is irked his condition has been made public. He was irritated enough to meet yesterday with general manager Pat Gillick to complain about unspecified inaccuracies with recent media accounts.

For his part, Gillick remains four-square behind manager Davey Johnson's decision to allow Ripken to determine his own schedule. "We're comfortable leaving it up to him to tell us how much, if any, downtime he needs," said Gillick.

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