It's just part of the game, but it's sight to be unseen

May 15, 1998|By Ken Rosenthal

Mike Mussina lay on the pitcher's mound, blood gushing from above his right eye, his nose broken, his head throbbing with pain.

There's an old saying in baseball that you see something new every day. But what happened to Mussina last night was so scary, few could bear to look.

"I don't want to see this," plate umpire Drew Coble told umpires attendant Ernie Tyler, retreating from the field to the Cleveland Indians' dugout.

"No one wanted to say anything," said Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo, who uttered a prayer in the dugout. "No one wanted to believe that had happened."

The crowd of 43,039 at Camden Yards fell silent, some fans sitting with their hands over their mouths, others with their heads in their hands.

Orioles first base coach Carlos Bernhardt sat in the dugout, crying.

"I felt kind of sick," center fielder Brady Anderson said. "And I don't consider myself the queasy type."

Mussina barely had time to react to the line drive off Sandy Alomar's bat. By turning his head ever so slightly, he might have saved himself from serious injury.

The Orioles went on to lose, 5-4. Mussina's next start was scheduled to be Tuesday in New York. But baseball issues seem minute now.

Mussina suffered a laceration over his right eye and broken nose, but no eye or head damage. It could have been worse, much worse.

"You can literally die," Orioles reliever Alan Mills said. "It's scary the way he fell. He fell like a person who had been shot."

From all indications, Mussina's physical scars will heal. But who knows what the psychological scars will be?

The pitcher's mound stands 60 feet, six inches from home plate, and that distance has always been part of baseball's seemingly perfect geometry.

But with hitters bigger and stronger than ever, the mound is increasingly becoming a danger zone.

A rash of similar incidents has occurred throughout the majors this season, with nearly a dozen pitchers getting struck by batted balls.

Orioles reliever Norm Charlton suffered a broken nose on a ball hit by Frank Thomas earlier this month.

The Florida Marlins' Eric Ludwick broke his pitching arm on a similar play, and will be out two to three months.

Last night, incredibly, it was Mussina's turn.

Mussina, the Orioles' most indispensable player.

Mussina, a Gold Glove fielder.

The Orioles were leading the Cleveland Indians 4-3 with one out in the sixth inning when Mussina threw his fateful 0-1 fastball to Alomar. The ball rocketed back, Anderson estimated, at "120 mph."

Alomar rushed to the mound after touching first base. The Orioles' infielders, manager Ray Miller, pitching coach Mike Flanagan and trainer Richie Bancells joined him.

"Are you with me?" Miller asked.

"I'm with you, but it hurts," Mussina said.

"I'm sorry," Alomar said.

"Yeah, like you were trying to do it," Mussina replied.

Cal Ripken, appearing in his record 2,517th consecutive game, stood over Mussina. Bancells applied a towel over the pitcher's eye, trying to contain the bleeding.

Mussina walked off the mound without assistance, escorted by Bancells, assistant trainer Brian Ebel, Miller and Flanagan. The crowd chanted "Moo-ooose," relieved that the pitcher did not appear seriously hurt.

The Orioles, however, were clearly shaken.

Anderson stood against the outfield wall, his head down. Others on the field gathered in twos and threes and chatted quietly. Bernhardt rested his head on his hand in the dugout, his eyes filled with tears.

"I'm not doing too good," Bernhardt said later in the silent clubhouse. "See my food?" he added, pointing to a plate covered in foil. "I won't even eat."

Bernhardt said he once saw a teen-ager in the Dominican Republic lose his left eye in a similar incident. He pointed to a baseball card of Mussina, one of several taped to his locker, and called the pitcher "one of my idols."

Arthur Rhodes replaced Mussina and allowed a two-run homer to the first batter he faced, Travis Fryman. Those runs proved the difference in the game. But on this night, Mussina was all that mattered.

Why are so many pitchers getting hit this season?

Hitters now crowd the plate, assuming that pitchers won't work inside. Thus, they often take compact instead of full swings on pitches over the outer half, and line balls back toward the mound.

"That's a good hitting approach, trying to hit the ball right back up the middle -- that's how you hit Mike Mussina," Hall of Famer Jim Palmer said in the broadcast booth, shaking his head.

Alomar, the brother of Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar, is the player who ended Mussina's bid for a perfect game at Camden Yards nearly a year ago.

A few dozen misguided fans booed Alomar before his next at-bat, failing to realize that he never meant to hurt Mussina.

It was part of the game, an increasingly disturbing part.

A part so terrifying, few could bear to look.

Pub Date: 5/15/98

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