Mussina remains exception

Ace stops Angels, 5-3, to rise to 6-1 in O's pitching-poor season

May 19, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

Orioles manager Ray Miller spent about five hours during Monday's day off massaging his rotation. Juan Guzman's next start would be delayed to give his sore back more time to recuperate. Scott Kamieniecki would be sent to the minors to give his career a chance to do the same.

Mike Mussina? The tinkering always stops there.

Handed the ball last night to open a six-game homestand, Mussina turned in eight solid innings to lead the Orioles to their second straight victory, 5-3, over the Anaheim Angels before 42,830 at Camden Yards.

Earlier in the day, Miller again laid much of the blame for the club's struggles on a pitching staff that had grown weary from carrying a 6.04 ERA. Opponents had scored at least five runs in 26 of 37 games, and eight of the past nine. Batters were raking the Orioles at a .341 clip over the last six games.

For one night, at least, Mussina put an end to the madness.

"Moose is competing well and I think each time out his stuff is a little bit sharper," Miller said. "He wasn't wide open and in midseason form right in the beginning, yet he was winning games because he's a good pitcher.

"Tonight I saw some of those breaking balls I saw in the playoffs [in '97] when the ball on the way to home plate actually looks like it goes up before it comes down late."

The only run against Mussina through seven innings came in the second on a leadoff homer by Todd Greene. Randy Velarde hit a two-run shot in the eighth, reducing the lead to 5-3 and bringing Miller to the mound for a brief consultation.

Mo Vaughn then scorched a Mussina pitch down the first base line, where Jeff Conine made a diving stop and raced to the bag for the second out. Jeff Reboulet's barehanded pickup of Garret Anderson's grounder closed the inning, and closer Mike Timlin worked the ninth for his sixth save.

Recounting the conversation with his ace, Miller said: "Like any- body does with their No. 1, I said, `I want you to finish this game or at least finish the inning.' He said, `I think I can finish the inning for sure,' so I told him we'd go one hitter at a time. If you go with your No. 1, I think it's the right thing to do."

Mussina (6-1) allowed seven hits, walked two and struck out five, and remained without a defeat since giving up a career-high 10 runs in 3 2/3 innings against Tampa Bay on April 21. Since then, he has posted four wins and was left with a no-decision in his last start in Cleveland after being removed in the eighth inning with a 5-4 lead.

In that game, Timlin gave up two hits and a walk after replacing Mussina, leading to two Cleveland runs and an excruciating defeat.

"It was on my mind a little bit and I wanted a little retribution for it," Timlin said. "I was trying to pick him up. He pitched a great game and he deserved to win."

The Orioles usually do when he pitches. Half of their victories have come in games he's started.

"We got an opportunity to get from the starter straight to the closer. We haven't had too many of those," said Mussina, who's 11-3 against the Angels.

"I'm feeling better. I think I threw the ball better. I had a little more on it. Finally, after six weeks I was able to get curveballs over pretty consistently, and down in the zone to get some strikeouts and easy grounders. I hadn't been able to do that up to this point. I was pretty encouraged by the whole thing.

"It was one of those days where I had almost everything possible that I could take out there. Sometimes you need everything you have to get through games like this."

Charles Johnson put the Orioles ahead 2-1 in the third inning with his eighth home run, and his third in three at-bats. He also went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of Sunday's 16-5 trouncing of the Texas Rangers in Arlington. Playing in his 12th straight game, Johnson reached for a 2-2 pitch from Angels starter Chuck Finley and drove it the opposite way.

The homer increased Johnson's average against left-handers to .400 (6-for-15) this season, compared to .228 (18-for-79) vs. right-handers.

The Orioles (14-24) drove Finley from the game in the sixth and gave Mussina some extra breathing room. The rally started with two outs when Conine doubled to right-center field. Cal Ripken walked, and designated hitter Rich Amaral collected his second hit, a looping single to right that scored Conine for a 3-1 lead. Mike Bordick, who hit .326 on the road trip to emerge from a slump, delivered two more runs with a double off the scoreboard in right.

Angels manager Terry Collins summoned right-hander Mark Petkovsek, who retired Johnson on a grounder to third.

"We got three runs with two outs off a guy who had been throwing the ball well. That's a pretty big deal," Mussina said. "It was a great pitching duel and you like a little margin for error."

Finley had been winless since April 9 until blanking the New York Yankees over eight innings in his last start. Last night, he was facing the Orioles for the first time since Sept. 11, when they jumped him for eight runs in 5 2/3 innings.

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