No thanks for the memories

August 15, 1998|By John Eisenberg

CLEVELAND -- Three months later, Sandy Alomar still wanted no part of such a discussion.

"I knew you were going to ask me about that," the Indians' All-Star catcher said testily when approached in the clubhouse yesterday.

The ball he hit that beaned Mike Mussina in the face in May at Camden Yards?

"I'm not talking about it," Alomar said.

Wait a minute, one of baseball's best talkers, not talking?

"I want to forget about that whole scenario," he said. "There was a lot of blood, you know what I mean?"

We know what you mean. We were there.

"Sorry, man," Alomar said before disappearing into the trainer's room.

Mussina was supposed to face Alomar for the first time since the beaning last night at Jacobs Field. Call it the last obstacle in Mussina's comeback.

Then Alomar was scratched from the Indians' lineup because of sore knees resulting from Thursday night's game, which lasted 12 innings and almost four hours.

Just before batting practice, his name was whited-out in the lineup card posted in the Orioles' clubhouse. Pat Borders' name was written in.

Sheer happenstance? Or was Indians manager Mike Hargrove paying heed to the history between Mussina and Alomar and postponing a reunion of which Alomar seemed to want no part?

"It's just his knees," Hargrove said. "I know what happened [in May]. But Sandy is hitting .460 lifetime against Mike. Why wouldn't I want him in there?"

In the end, the Orioles staked Mussina to an 8-1 lead in three innings and he motored easily to a victory that pushed his record to 7-4 since returning from the beaning.

No, he didn't clear that final obstacle, and he's scheduled to miss the Indians when they come to Camden Yards later this month. So unless the teams meet in the playoffs, Mussina won't face Alomar until next year.

Maybe it's just as well. "I'm sure there'd be a mental flashback of some kind," Orioles pitching coach Mike Flanagan said. "I know it would creep into my thinking. Of course, knowing Mike, it probably wouldn't."

Exactly. And that's the point. Mussina really doesn't need to survive an at-bat with Alomar to confirm that he has survived the trauma.

With a 5-1 record since the All-Star break, he long ago silenced any doubts that he might never be the same.

Maybe Alomar is still struggling with the memory, but Mussina clearly is beyond it.

Getting beaned ruined the careers of several other pitchers, but Mussina refused to play along.

"I think it's fair to say his approach was, 'I'm just not going to sink to that,' " Flanagan said.

Not that that's a surprise. Mussina's mental discipline may be the greatest of his many assets.

"It's just the ability to block out all distractions," Flanagan said. "He may have had somewhat of an inner war for awhile there, but once he took the mound, he was fine."

Actually, he didn't settle back into his usual regimen of running, exercise biking and throwing between starts until recently. He couldn't run because the impact of his feet hitting the ground caused headaches.

"We were dealing with a head injury," Flanagan said. "It had to take time. And with Mike being very much a creature of habit, I knew he wouldn't be all the way back until he was all the way back in his routine."

Which was when? Four starts ago, Flanagan said. In other words, just a few days before Mussina's near-perfect game against the Tigers at Camden Yards.

That was the night he erased all doubts about his comeback from getting beaned.

But there was still that last obstacle, that last memory twitch: Facing Alomar.

"I had realized that it might happen," Mussina said after pitching eight innings in the Orioles' 15-3 win last night, "but honestly, it wasn't going to faze me at all. I'm over that. It took some time, no doubt. But I have faced a lot of guys since then. Gotten on with what I do. It was something bad that happened. But it's just not there [in his mind] anymore."

He said he and several teammates did discuss Alomar's late scratch from the lineup before the game.

"I thought it had to be his knees," Mussina said, "but then someone said he might be uncomfortable with the idea of facing me. Maybe it was, I don't know. It's the first time I've seen him since it happened."

Alomar did phone Mussina the day after the beaning, and he was nothing short of crestfallen on the field the night it happened.

"He kept saying to me, 'I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry,' " Mussina said. "I had to tell him, 'Listen, Sandy, you didn't mean to do it. You were just playing the game.' "

Someone told Mussina that Alomar had refused to discuss the incident before the game last night, that the whole affair was still obviously upsetting to him.

Could it be that the pitcher who was beaned in the head would survive the trauma better than the batter who hit the ball?

"I'll try to talk to him tomorrow," Mussina said. "Now he's seen rTC me pitch a game, and he can see that I'm OK. I hope he's OK, too. I definitely need to look him up tomorrow. I'll definitely find time to do that."

Pub Date: 8/15/98

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