Mussina brings back the magic Victory: On an October day that felt like summer, a win over Seattle brings cheers.

October 06, 1997|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,SUN STAFF

In the top of the seventh inning, with the October sun setting in an August-like haze, a flood of weird orange light washed the walls and faces inside Oriole Park, right off Russell Street. At that moment, Mike Mussina snatched a hard grounder on the pitcher's mound, and the crowd roared like summer thunder. With the snap of Mussina's golden glove and his careful throw to first base, the Orioles were suddenly six outs away from playoff victory over the Mariners.

A fellow named Bob Mann, who had slipped into Oriole Park when the ushers weren't looking, saw Mussina's great play on a television monitor, did a hard squat in the beer line, punched the air like a student of Master Kim's karate and crowed, "Yes!"

Such a sports fan, this Mann. He wore a Bullets cap and a Southern Cal lacrosse T-shirt. He'd come to Camden Yards directly from the Ravens' loss at Memorial Stadium. He'd come with two softball buddies, one of whom, Jay Shepherd, he described as the best darn plumber in Anne Arundel County. "If you need a toilet unplugged, Jay's the one to call," Mann said. And then he added, "Yes, Orioles! Yes! Mussina! Yes!"

Yes, yes, yes. If you need a playoff victory, Mussina's the one to call-- even on three day's rest.

Out on Eutaw Street, Debi -- "I spell it with a heart over the i" -- McCluskey sat with her back to the game, her head crowned with an Orioles cap ringed with orange marabou feathers. An exquisite sight, this. McCluskey, a season-ticket holder, was unhappy with her bleacher seats above right field -- "My feet were cramped" -- on the 85-degree afternoon, so she sat at a cafe table within whiffing distance of Boog's Barbecue. She wasn't watching the game.

"Doesn't matter if I can't see," she said. "I can feel. I can feel the vibrations. It's a karma thing. I can tell we're winning."

By then the Orioles were ahead, 3-1. Cannons had sounded in center field when Jeff Reboulet hit a home run in the first inning. Cannons went off again in the fifth, when Geronimo Berroa sent one into the left field stands.

It had been an extravagantly dramatic afternoon -- Mussina, ace of the Orioles, his dark eyes shaded by the bill of his cap, his whiskered jaw locked like a tough guy's, against long, tall Randy Johnson, ace of the Mariners, all knees and elbows and hair flying like a whirly-gig on the pitcher's mound, throwing those mystical sliders and logging 13 strikeouts.

It was Mussina's day, though. Besides a home run by the Mariners' Edgar Martinez, Mussina had allowed only one other hit. And he had given Oriole fans numerous occasions for thunder -- when he sent Martinez down on strikes in the sixth, when he did the same to the Great Griffey and two other batters in the third, when he snagged a line drive from Brent Gates in the fifth, when he snatched that sharp grounder in the top of the seventh, and got Bob Mann and all other sports fans in Baltimore so excited.

Mussina came out after seven. In came Armando Benitez, who kept the Mariners from scoring in the eighth.

Then, you could hear summer thunder again from the stands. And applause. Randy Myers, the relief pitcher, jogged in from the bullpen for the last inning. He was already sweating from his warm-up. The first batter he faced was Martinez, the slugger with the Popeye arms.

The first pitch was a ball, the second a strike, the third a ball, the fourth a strike. That was the Bird's cue to dance on the Seattle dugout.

Myers' next pitch to Martinez was a big, ole strike three, and the crowd's thunder was deafening. The catcher, Lenny Webster, pegged the ball to Ripken, who threw it to Mike Bordick, who threw it to Roberto Alomar, who threw it back to Ripken, who tossed it back to Myers. One out.

The next batter, Roberto Kelly, made small, tight circles with his bat. He looked at a ball, fouled off the second pitch, missed the third, fouled the fourth. Again the Bird danced on the Seattle dugout. Myers' next pitch slapped Webster's catcher's mitt, and home plate umpire Dale Scott turned away and punched the air. Two outs. More thunder.

Then Seattle's Jay Buhner hit a ground ball to Bordick, who threw it to Rafael Palmeiro at first, and in the next instant there were hugs and high-fives all over, from the pitcher's mound to second base, a gang of happy baseball players in white uniforms slapping and hugging each other as black and orange confetti fluttered through the air. Someone grabbed Jeffrey Hammonds and lifted him off the ground. "Wow" flashed on the scoreboard. Buhner, the last Seattle batter, carefully pulled off his batting gloves for the last time in the 1997 season and, never looking up from his hands, walked slowly across the infield, back to his dugout. The Orioles' amazing Eric Davis raised his hands, one of them still covered with his fielder's mitt, and summoned even more of a roar on the big, happy Sunday evening in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 10/06/97

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