Strawberry shot pains Orioles, 5-3 3-run, 465-foot homer helps Yankees avert 3-game series sweep

Longest at Camden Yards

Difficult first inning gives Mussina 4th loss

June 18, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It would have been nice. It would have taken some of the sting out of a season turned sour.

The Orioles were in a position to take a broom to the runaway New York Yankees last night and sweep them right out of Camden Yards. Instead, Orioles public enemy No. 1 Darryl Strawberry lowered the boom in a 5-3 Yankees victory that prevented the Orioles from taking sole possession of third place in the American League East.

Strawberry hit the longest home run in the history of Oriole Park and left-hander Andy Pettitte gave up just two runs on six hits over 7 1/3 innings to remain undefeated in six career decisions in Baltimore.

Not exactly the way the Orioles had hoped to entertain the largest crowd to watch a game at Camden Yards -- 48,269 -- but it has been that kind of a year.

The Orioles were looking for an ego-restoring three-game sweep and had their top starting pitcher on the mound, but right-hander Mike Mussina still is working his way back into midseason shape after twice being forced out of the rotation by freak injuries. He gave up five runs on eight hits en route to his fourth loss in nine decisions.

"I don't think things are where I want them to be, but I haven't had the smoothest ride," Mussina said. "I'm behind and I'm trying to catch up."

He was not sharp early, and the Yankees took advantage to score three times on one huge swing in the first inning.

Make that a mammoth swing.

Make that a humongous swing.

Mussina walked Luis Sojo with one out in the first and gave up a single to Paul O'Neill before Strawberry rewrote the Camden Yards record book. He launched a 2-1 changeup that hit the ivy-covered wall behind the center-field fence on the fly. The shot was measured at 465 feet, making it the biggest blast in the seven-season history of Oriole Park.

"I think the most important thing was it gave us a 3-0 lead," Strawberry said. "We wanted to get off to a good start. The team came out tonight knowing that we needed to win this ballgame. We're not a team that can sit back and lose and accept it. We don't like losing too much and we haven't done that too often."

Strawberry said afterward that he wasn't even aware that the home run had any other significance. The record was previously held by Oakland Athletics outfielder Pedro Munoz, who hit a 463-foot homer off former Orioles starter David Wells in 1996.

"It went a long way," said Mussina, who also gave up a bases-empty home run to catcher Joe Girardi. "If you're going to give them up, you might as well give them up like that instead of scraping the back of the wall like the other one."

Fans in the center-field bleachers could not have been surprised at Strawberry's impressive display of strength. He had put on quite a show in batting practice, becoming the first player to hit a ball off the Sony video screen -- a shot that measured 480 feet.

Strawberry has a history of hitting them a long way here. He hit a ball into the upper bullpen as part of a two-homer performance in Game 4 of the 1996 American League Championship Series.

The crowd gave him a nice ovation for the BP shot last night, but went right back to booing him when the game started. He has been the target of abuse from the stands throughout the series because of the role he played in the brawl with the Orioles four weeks ago at Yankee Stadium.

It was Strawberry who burst through a crowd of players to punch reliever Armando Benitez during the melee that broke out after Benitez drilled Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez in the back on May 19. Strawberry received a three-game suspension for that swing. He got three RBIs for this one.

Mussina continued to struggle. He gave up two more hits in the second inning and surrendered the 360-foot home run to Girardi in the fourth. The Orioles did not answer until red-hot Rafael Palmeiro launched his 19th home run onto the flag court behind right field.

"I think [Mussina] is real close," said manager Ray Miller. "I think he's a little frustrated. His body is a little quick and he's getting out in front of his arm. That's taking away from his velocity. But he made some big pitches. He'll be fine."

Pettitte (8-5) had better luck. He did not give up a hit until the third inning and was comfortably ahead when Palmeiro homered for the 12th time in his past 27 games.

The Yankees got that run back when Scott Brosius scored their fifth run on an RBI groundout in the top of the sixth, but Joe Carter lined a ball into the left-field stands for his ninth home run in the bottom of the inning.

Pettitte would leave under fire in the eighth, but his solid performance had to come as something of a relief to New York manager Joe Torre, who removed him from his previous start against the Montreal Expos after he suffered a "twinge" in his lower back.

Pettitte's sore back has been an issue since midway through the ZTC 1997 season, but it did not prevent him from recording his eighth victory and remaining on pace to win 20 games for the second time in three seasons.

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