O's Mussina not dwelling on lost opportunity

Team's ace shrugs off wasted performance in Friday's 2-1 loss

Offense can't dent Candiotti

A's improve to 2-8 against Mussina in Oak.

May 30, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Nights like Friday are the reason Mike Mussina prefers to stiff-arm talk of a 20-win season. More than most, he accepts how the game's subtleties can distort as well as reward a performance. In his 2-1, complete-game loss to the Oakland A's, Mussina received a refresher course on the subject.

The wind-chilled defeat was Mussina's first since surrendering a career-high 10 runs on April 21, while A's starter Tom Candiotti lasted 6 1/3 innings to earn his first win since April 22.

The loss dropped the Orioles to 18-29 overall and 2-2 on their current road trip while ending a season-high run of two straight road victories.

Mussina, perhaps the most gifted pitcher in the game yet to enjoy a 20-win season, was attempting to match his 8-1 start of 1997, when he ultimately won 15 games and crafted a 3.20 ERA. Entering Friday's game against a team he'd dominated throughout his career, Mussina had started seven of the Orioles' 18 wins. The trend looked to continue. Mussina was 8-1 with a 2.65 ERA in nine starts at Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, now called Network Associates Coliseum.

But this wasn't to be a typical night. Candiotti righted himself after being bumped to the fifth rung of the rotation. The Orioles stopped hitting behind Mussina. And a first-inning gaffe in the outfield allowed the A's to score what would prove a decisive run.

If the two-time, 19-game winner is again teased by 20 wins this October, he will likely reflect on this game. Friday night he held his tongue.

"As a pitcher in the American League there are a lot of things you can't control. So I don't worry about what I can't control," Mussina said. "Candiotti pitched a great game. We hit some balls hard right at people. They made some great plays on bad hops. That's just the way the game is played. You can pitch well and lose or you can pitch mediocre to bad and still win sometimes. That's the way the game is."

Referring to his 7-2 record, Mussina said, "It's a pretty accurate reflection. I've had a couple bad games where I didn't throw that well but was able to get a no-decision or win."

As is, Mussina lowered his ERA to 4.21. Minus the April 21 start at Tampa Bay he would carry a 3.31 ERA, low enough to rank among the league leaders.

Mussina entered his 11th start receiving 8.63 runs per start, third-best in the AL. In his previous outing last Sunday, the Orioles crushed the Texas Rangers with a 10-run first inning en route to a 15-6 win, leaving Mussina 4-0 for May with a 3.28 ERA and riding a five-game win streak.

There was nothing "mediocre to bad" about Friday's game.

The slumping A's scratched for six hits and a walk and put only three runners into scoring position. He threw 111 pitches, 74 for strikes, continuing a trend of encouraging starts by the Orioles' recovering starting rotation.

The A's took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Matt Stairs smoked a drive just over second baseman Delino DeShields into right field. Playing extremely shallow, right fielder Albert Belle could not cut off the two-out smash, allowing it to roll to the wall while first baseman Jason Giambi lumbered and half-stepped home from first base. (Giambi later left the game with a pulled hamstring.)

"They both took a straight-across route and the ball shot through," manager Ray Miller said, referring to Belle and center fielder Brady Anderson.

"The first thing I thought was the second baseman might catch it," said Mussina. "But the outfield's fast here. It's a hard field. More often than not what I did is going to be good enough. Today it wasn't."

Starting for the first time in nine days, Candiotti answered by allowing four hits and received at least as many strong defensive plays behind him. A one-out RBI single by A's designated hitter Olmedo Saenz broke a 1-1 game in the sixth inning. A's manager Art Howe then received 2 2/3 innings of perfect relief from T. J. Mathews, Buddy Groom and Billy Taylor. The trio struck out three while needing just 27 pitches.

The Orioles weren't bashful, swinging early and often at Candiotti's flutterball. The veteran right-hander needed only 28 pitches to open with three perfect innings. Belle ruined his run of perfection with a sharp single to begin the fifth and the Orioles eventually tied the game on DeShields' two-out, bases-loaded infield single. It was one of only two innings in which they managed base runners against Candiotti (3-5), who earned the 150th win of his career.

Mussina settled for his fifth quality start in six outings and the satisfaction of persevering through nasty conditions.

"I'm always trying to be as consistent as a I can. It's the first third of the season. If I get to July and August and stay strong and pitch consistently, then I'll be really pleased," Mussina said.

"Mike's pitching well and getting better each time out and he's got a pretty good record," Miller said. "It's something to look forward to."

Late O's game

Last night's Orioles-Athletics game in Oakland, Calif., did not end in time to be included in this edition.

A complete report can be found in later editions or on the Internet at http: //www.sunspot.net.

For a report on last night's game and other Orioles information, call SunDial at 410-783-1800, ext. 5023 (in Anne Arundel County, call 410-268-7736, ext. 5023).

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