Mussina keeps O's on track Determined pitcher gets 12th victory, stops Devil Rays, 6-4

Club 30-8 since break

Bordick HR, Ripken's 3 hits boost offense

August 20, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Mike Mussina provided the Orioles another novelty act last night. This time it wasn't pitching an entire game without throwing from the stretch or flirting with a perfect game for 7 2/3 innings.

Instead, he gave his outfielders the night off in a seven-inning performance that was more determined than artistic. The Orioles left with a functional 6-4 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and their seventh victory in eight games.

Behind Mussina, the Orioles did not record an outfield putout. They did generate a well-timed offense that allowed them to play from ahead throughout while the Devil Rays constantly had the tying run on base or at bat.

Shortstop Mike Bordick's three-run home run off Devil Rays starter Rolando Arrojo, three hits by a rejuvenated Cal Ripken and a telling sixth inning by Willie Greene provided Mussina enough offensive support. Armando Benitez gave a tough-man exhibition with two perfect innings of relief for the save.

The Orioles are 68-58 and 30-8 since the All-Star break. They are also 21-3 since the break when scoring first.

"Every guy who steps to the plate isn't looking to be the guy who drives in the tying run," said Mussina of the tale of two halves. "If they don't get the pitch to hit, they're willing to do whatever they can to get on base. Because of it, we're building innings, putting pressure on guys, getting deep in counts and when the hit comes around we already have a couple guys on. Plus we've been able to run the same five [starting pitchers] out there and get six, seven, eight innings and let the bullpen [relievers] know what their roles are. We don't have to have set-up guys in there in the third and fourth innings like we were doing the first half."

The expansion Devil Rays swept four games from the Orioles in their earlier visit to Camden Yards. But that was when the Orioles were in a death spiral and the Devil Rays had yet to experience the drain of a long first season.

Arrojo, one of six Cuban defectors who has pitched in the major leagues, represents a Rookie of the Year candidate at 30. He is the only rookie pitcher from an expansion club to make an All-Star Game. Arrojo began the season 10-4 but has struggled since June. He entered last night with one win in his previous eight starts and had pitched fewer than four innings in two of his past three starts.

The Orioles wasted little time against Arrojo, raking him for six hits and three runs the first two innings.

Bordick didn't produced his first three-RBI game this season until Game No. 118. He waited only eight more days to duplicate the effort.

Arrojo fell into trouble quickly when B. J. Surhoff and Ripken led off with consecutive singles. It extended Ripken's hitting streak to eight games and left him with hits in 22 of his past 24 games and eight hits in his past three games. Ripken's three singles last night also leave him only one hit shy of Brooks Robinson's club-record 2,848 hits. The third baseman is enjoying his most protracted streak of the season and has reached base in the past 43 games.

Orioles manager Ray Miller enjoyed the performance.

"He kind of lit Cal up the first at-bat," Miller said. "He threw one right under his chin. He got back in there a little closer and went to work. That's not a good guy to wake up."

Greene's fielder's choice and Chris Hoiles' strikeout threatened the rally. But Bordick, who has quietly rehabilitated his offense after a difficult beginning, turned on the league's toughest pitcher against right-handers (.188) for a home run into the left-field stands.

Bordick's eighth home run tied a career high.

Bordick said: "I think he threw me the only fastball and fortunately I started my swing soon enough and got a good part of the bat on it."

What might have been another early knockout of Arrojo (11-10) instead went no further after Roberto Alomar's bunt single, a walk of Brady Anderson and Harold Baines' scalded single to right loaded the bases for Rafael Palmeiro. Palmeiro ended the five-hit inning with a first-pitch grounder to shortstop.

In Mussina's hands, a 3-0 lead is usually fail-safe. This time it survived two dangerous innings, once thanks to the pitcher's ability to negotiate the bottom of the Devil Rays' lineup and the second because of Greene's most significant play as an Orioles. Both crises followed extended at-bats.

Two starts after making 129 pitches in Minnesota, Mussina needed only 33 pitches to get his first eight outs. He required 10 to eliminate second baseman Miguel Cairo to end the third inning. The Devil Rays returned in the fourth to load the bases on three consecutive singles by Bobby Smith, Wade Boggs and Bubba Trammell. Instead of buckling, Mussina got out of the jam with only one run.

Mussina nearly dropped the 3-1 lead during a 34-pitch sixth inning. It began with a a classic at-bat by Smith, who saw 14 pitches before earning a walk.

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