Mussina, O's left with tired feeling

Weary ace disgruntled after loss to Mariners

June 04, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Ray Miller saw it as giving his best pitcher a chance to determine his own fate. Mike Mussina interpreted it as something less noble.

Either way, the no-luck Orioles lost another winnable game, 4-2, to the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday night with Mussina pitching on fumes to American League home run leader Ken Griffey in the eighth inning.

Griffey's response was a two-out, two-strike, two-run double that turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead and an agitated Mussina from a winning into a losing pitcher.

"He's my No. 1 pitcher, he's pitched a heck of a game, I think he deserves a right to win it. I chose to stay with him. I think he deserves the right to win the game," Miller said.

The decision clearly irked Mussina, who admitted tiring during the inning as the Orioles' bullpen swung into action. Afterward, Mussina dressed deliberately, threw his belongings into a travel bag before finally looking up from his locker to say, "I guess you expect me to say something intelligent?"

Mussina (7-3) struggled to contain his frustration over a situation in which he had to compensate for Miller's depleted confidence in a hard-ridden bullpen.

"When you get to 120 pitches, you've got to say that's just about anybody's limit," Mussina said.

Miller struggled with conflicting trends. Griffey was a career 5-for-39 vs. Mussina but had taken aggressive swings in three earlier at-bats, including a sixth-inning line drive that lifted center fielder Brady Anderson off his feet only 10 feet shy of the warning track.

"[Griffey] seemed to be on him pretty well. The time before he hit the ball extremely well," Anderson said. "But Moose was awesome to shut them down the way he did."

Said Miller: "Mike gave us everything he had tonight. I wanted him to finish it and unfortunately it didn't work."

On his 126th pitch, Mussina fed Griffey a 1-2 breaking ball that was driven to the fence in left-center field. Alex Rodriguez scored from first with the go-ahead run. Rather than go to Mike Timlin, Miller remained with Mussina, who walked Edgar Martinez on four pitches before surrendering a run-scoring single to Butch Huskey.

"I figured after that he'd leave me out there to finish the game." Mussina said. "After that I don't know what happened. Huskey got a hit and I walked somebody. I don't know if it was in that order or reverse order."

The 20-32 Orioles suffered a 4-5 road trip instead of embracing an uplifting 6-3, three-city tour because of their inability to take advantage of Mussina's solid outings in Oakland and Seattle.

Wednesday's loss might have been the most difficult of all, given that the Orioles had outhit the Mariners 10-3 through six innings and Mussina had overcome an infield error, a blown call on the bases and his offense's inability to convert numerous scoring chances while giving away three outs on the bases.

The loss represented the Orioles' goodbye to the Kingdome, which the Mariners abandon next month for Safeco Field. For Mussina, the Mariners have always represented a comfortable matchup: He entered 12-1 with a 3.62 ERA against them in 15 starts. The Mariners scored 21 runs the two previous nights, but against Mussina didn't get a runner past first base through five innings.

Mussina overcame a questionable call that left him with his first error in nearly four years and a sixth-inning scare that pulled the Mariners within 2-1.

Because Scott Erickson and Juan Guzman have won three of 22 combined starts, Miller might be forgiven for his reliance on Mussina.

But in many ways Wednesday's eighth inning encompassed the pitching problems that have afflicted the Orioles all season.

The Orioles had split their four previous games despite receiving a combined 13 2/3 innings from their rotation. Worst of all, Miller required four pitchers to cover the final six outs of Tuesday's unsightly 14-11 win, which ended with the Mariners scoring five runs in the ninth inning and deposed closer Timlin being charged with five earned runs while getting only one out.

Miller needed Arthur Rhodes to get the last two outs, making him unavailable Wednesday.

Mussina lost another win against the Cleveland Indians under similar circumstances May 12 when Timlin relieved.

This time Timlin warmed but apparently was never considered with the game in question as Mussina finished with 133 pitches, his highest count of the season.

B. J. Surhoff's two-out single in the third inning gave Mussina a 1-0 lead and Rich Amaral bumped it to 2-0 with a two-out single in the sixth, but the lost opportunities loomed as large as those taken.

Mike Bordick was picked off first base with Albert Belle hitting in the first, Jeff Conine was caught off third in a failed double steal in the second and Anderson was thrown out at the plate attempting to score from second on Bordick's two-out single in the fifth.

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