Twins bring Mussina, O's to earth Miller sticks with ace, pays in 4-run rally as O's streak ends, 5-4

2-out hits end 5-game run

Starter strikes out 11 but gives up 12 hits

August 10, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

MINNEAPOLIS -- Robbed by injury and uninspired performances, Ray Miller spent an oppressive first half managing on hope. During an invigorating second-half run the Orioles manager has relied more heavily on faith.

Yesterday Miller believed too much and left the Metrodome burned.

The Minnesota Twins halted their season-high seven-game losing streak by exploiting a relatively dull, 129-pitch performance by starting pitcher Mike Mussina (10-6). Leading 2-1, Mussina lost the lead during a two-run sixth inning and gave up two more in the seventh.

The last two runs negated a dogged comeback that only left the Orioles 5-4 losers.

Lost was a five-game winning streak and a brief opportunity to close to seven games behind the wild-card lead before falling 8 1/2 back.

Lost was the chance to get to a pitching staff carrying a 7.65 ERA in its last nine games. Not only did Mussina suffer his first loss in eight starts since June 27, but he was also bested by left-handed emergency starter Dan Serafini (5-4), who replaced Maryland alumnus Eric Milton, scratched by a sore shoulder.

The Orioles crafted a club record by homering in their 20th consecutive game. Roberto Alomar reached Serafini in the fifth with none aboard, and B. J. Surhoff capped a three-RBI game with a two-run shot in the eighth to pull the Orioles within a run. Designated hitter Eric Davis legged out an infield single in the third inning to extend his hitting streak to a club-record 25 games.

Rich Becker and Brady Anderson worked walks off Twins closer Rick Aguilera in the ninth to give the Orioles hope, but Davis' bid for a game-winning home run fell a few feet short, into right fielder Alex Ochoa's glove.

"They outplayed us today," said Miller. "They had some chances and took advantage of them. They got some key hits."

The biggest came in the sixth and seventh innings as Jimmy Key, Doug Johns and Bobby Munoz warmed. Key sat after the sixth.

Recalled from Rochester on Saturday, Munoz looked on as 10 of the last 16 batters to face Mussina reached base. Making the loss more painful was the Twins' ability to score all their runs with two outs.

"When you're on a streak like they've been on, there have probably been a lot of situations where they could've had a two-out hit and changed a game," Mussina said. "Today they got it done. Today they got the two-out hit they needed. They got the guy over to third with a bunt or the ball hit behind him. They set up run-scoring opportunities."

The pivotal ones came in the sixth and seventh. With runners at first and third in the sixth, Mussina struck out Pat Meares on a hard-breaking knuckle curve. The ball skipped through catcher Chris Hoiles, enabling Brent Gates to score the tying run. With two outs, catcher Terry Steinbach singled home Paul Molitor for a 3-2 lead.

Miller remained committed to Mussina.

"Once they got the base hit, I wasn't going to pull him for a guy just called up from Triple-A," Miller said, referring to Munoz, who gave up two hits in a scoreless eighth. "I thought he was pretty much in command. They just got some base hits off him."

With the bullpen inactive, the Twins quickly created another situation in the seventh when Otis Nixon singled with one out and Gates bounced a ground-rule double. Molitor was intentionally walked to load the bases. After a strikeout of cleanup hitter David Ortiz, Mussina threw a 1-0 breaking pitch that Meares scooped for a double, turning a 3-2 game into a 5-2 cushion.

Mussina finished with the strange mix of 12 hits and 11 strikeouts. In four of seven innings he allowed the Twins' leadoff hitter to reach. Twice the runner scored. He surrendered one run on a strikeout and another on a shoe-high breaking pitch. Only twice did Mussina face three hitters in an inning, both times getting an out from Hoiles snuffing would-be base stealers.

"There were times when I thought my stuff was better from the stretch. As much time as I spent in the stretch today, it had better be. If it hadn't been, I would've been out early," he said.

"He threw some bad pitches and got away with them. And he threw some good pitches that they hurt him on," said Hoiles. "I guess it evened out, but he threw pretty good as far as I was concerned."

Miller admittedly worked with a hamstrung bullpen. Alan Mills had appeared in consecutive games. Scott Kamieniecki is scheduled to start tomorrow against Tampa Bay. Pete Smith was not considered an option.

Mussina had flirted with perfection in his previous start Aug. 4, retiring the first 23 hitters faced against the Detroit Tigers before settling for a 4-0 two-hit win. Mussina entered yesterday 3-0 with a 1.98 ERA in his last three starts and brandishing a 4-1 road record supported by a 1.82 ERA. He was 12-1 with a 2.52 ERA in 14 career starts against the Twins, including 6-1 in the dTC Metrodome.

Plenty of reasons to justify Miller's faith.

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