Mussina continues Detroit dominance

Sidelight

Although not perfect, Orioles ace improves to 15-2 against Tigers

May 08, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

DETROIT -- As Detroit manager Larry Parrish filled out his lineup card yesterday, he scribbled Gregg Jefferies' name as the designated hitter. Upon further review, however, he decided to use Bill Haselman because of his career numbers against Orioles starter Mike Mussina.

Granted, Haselman's .308 average was built in only 13 at-bats, but Parrish was desperate for an edge, something the Tigers never seem to have when facing Mussina.

Especially not here. And not even when Mussina is slightly off his game.

Parrish's lineup shuffling couldn't prevent another fold. Haselman doubled and homered, driving in three runs, and the Tigers had at least one hit in each of the first six innings. This wasn't Mussina at his sharpest, as four walks indicated, but he still left his mark in a 9-4 victory.

The decision improved his record at Tiger Stadium to 7-1. Detroit moves into its new ballpark next spring, and Mussina may want to keep a few bricks from the old place, since he has pretty much owned it anyway.

Mussina has carved a 15-2 lifetime record in 21 starts against the Tigers, giving him more wins against them than any other club. He was 4-0 against them last year, with only three earned runs allowed in 30 innings. He also crept within four outs of perfection in an Aug. 4 start in Baltimore, a form Mussina didn't approach last night.

His scoreless innings streak ended at 13 when Haselman drove a 2-0 pitch over the fence in right with two runners aboard in the sixth. A leadoff walk in the seventh brought manager Ray Miller from the dugout, and left-hander Jesse Orosco from the bullpen. Mussina allowed nine hits, and six of the last nine batters reached against him, as the Tigers came within a single of hitting for the cycle in the sixth.

"Mike looked a little in and out with his control, but he still got us through the innings," Miller said.

"I've pitched better games," said Mussina, whose 5-1 record is three wins shy of his best career start, in 1997. "I really haven't thrown the ball consistently well yet. I've given up too many hits. I've walked too many people. I'm fortunate that I'm getting big outs when I need them, and the guys are scoring me a lot of runs."

Mussina's defense offered a steady hand. Left fielder B. J. Surhoff slid on his knees to catch a sinking liner from Frank Catalanotto leading off the first, and right fielder Albert Belle made a leaping catch on the warning track to rob Damion Easley in the third. And there was enough offensive support to cushion Mussina when he stumbled.

The Tigers put a runner in scoring position in the second on a one-out double by Haselman, but Mussina got a fly ball and groundout. A more serious jam came in the fourth on a leadoff single by Bobby Higginson and a one-out walk to Tony Clark, who began the night with 13 strikeouts in his 26 at-bats against Mussina. Haselman bounced into a double play.

Consecutive singles by Juan Encarnacion and Brad Ausmus with one out in the fifth again had Mussina tettering, but he struck out Catalanotto -- who broke up his bid for a perfect game last season -- and retired Easley on a fly to right.

The sixth inning wouldn't be as forgiving. Detroit sent eight batters to the plate, and the damage included Haselman's homer, a double by Higginson, a triple by Encarnacion and two walks. When Mussina lost Easley to begin the seventh, the last pitch being his 98th, Miller made the switch.

"I've got to try to be better. I've never had trouble throwing strikes," said Mussina, who has walked 17 in 42 innings. "Although it looks like at 5-1 that I'm throwing pretty well, I'm not throwing the ball as well as I'd like to be."

At this place, against this team, it doesn't matter.

Pub Date: 5/08/99

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