Mussina 'dropped chin' just in time DL fate delayed

ace says he never saw shot that just missed eye

May 16, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Roch Kubatko contributed to this article.

Orioles ace Mike Mussina told Ray Miller he never saw Sandy Alomar's sizzling line drive that was traveling well in excess of 100 mph when it slammed above his right eye Thursday night.

"Mike just dropped his chin in time to avoid getting hit right in the eye," Miller said of the liner that silenced an Oriole Park crowd of 43,039 and cast a pall over both teams.

Mussina, wearing glasses over a badly swollen right side of his face, returned to Camden Yards late yesterday afternoon for several minutes for a routine follow-up examination.

He departed without talking to the media.

Orioles officials said Mussina suffered a hairline fracture of the nose and a mild concussion in addition to the gash over his eye, which took 16 to 20 stitches to close.

As of last night, the Orioles had not placed Mussina on the disabled list in hopes he may be able to take his regular pitching turn Tuesday against the New York Yankees.

"Knowing Mike, he would want to throw tomorrow [today]," Miller said in the first sign of levity since Mussina's injury.

Mussina's brother, Mark, also added a light touch to the clubhouse scene.

"I always said I was better looking than Mike," Mark said. "This makes the gap wider."

Moments after Mussina walked out the door, a subdued Cal Ripken sat in a small room off the runway leading from the locker room to the clubhouse and forced himself to talk about his friend and teammate.

"I haven't seen or talked to Mike today," Ripken said. "Maybe I'm trying to avoid the whole situation. It was one of the hardest hits I've ever seen. He fields his position as well as anyone. He has catlike reflexes. But Sandy can hit the ball as hard as anyone and he hit it perfectly, making it impossible for Mike to get out of the way."

Ripken said the scary Mussina incident just brings out an ugly side of the game that "we all know is there but try to forget."

"You couldn't go out and play if you thought about something like that happening again to yourself, a teammate or any other player," said Ripken, who has seen a lot of baseball injuries in his 17 years and 2,518 consecutive games.

Orioles reliever Norm Charlton, who has been hit in the head twice in the past four years on the mound, said, "But we all know it could happen again tonight when we go out there."

Charlton has bounced back both times to pitch "a couple of days" later and believes Mussina will most likely "take the ball real soon."

L "Moose is a competitor," Charlton said. "He won't shy away."

Former Orioles Hall of Famer Jim Palmer said, "The best thing about Mike is he will decide when to pitch. He's an intelligent person who knows what's best for him. Brooks [Robinson] said the thing to do after getting beaned is to get right back up and hit, but he never got hit like this."

Lew Lyon, a sports psychologist from Good Samaritan Hospital, said Mussina will have to overcome both the physical and mental challenges that await his return to the mound.

The line drive that hit him came on a pitch on the outside half of the plate, and he may be hesitant to go there as freely, said Lyon, a former minor-league pitcher himself who also has scouted for major-league teams.

"There's going to be that trepidation," he said. "I would tend to theorize that someone who takes a shot like that, their walk-strikeout ratio is going to change. And it's just going to have to be that way until he feels more comfortable being out there. He won't quite go the route that he has gone in the past. He may go inside a lot more because it's tougher to hit that pitch up the middle, and he also may get a little gun-shy sometimes.

"Fortunately, Mike throws that breaking ball straight over the top, so you don't have that flat breaking ball to deal with like Norm Charlton."

Lyon said Mussina needs to focus on staying in command of his pitches.

"That's going to be the most important thing for him," Lyon said. "And he has to keep that sharpness mentally that he needs to have to dominate. If you lose that edge to bite that outside corner and go inside-outside as well as he does, the efficiency of his pitches goes down considerably."

Lyon also warned of a possible "spinoff effect" involving other pitchers.

"You see one of your teammates go down from a shot like that, it weighs on you," he said. "You just make sure you stay in command of your game, what got you there."

Pub Date: 5/16/98

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