Even `Moose' steps lively in hit parade

June 14, 1999|By KEN ROSENTHAL

ATLANTA -- Chicks dig the long ball; that's what Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux discovered in their Nike commercial.

Well, chicks no longer dig the Atlanta Braves.

Chicks dig Mike Mussina.

Consider this a warning to that other slugger with the initials "MM" -- guy by the name of McGwire.

Mussina might not have gone deep last night, but he stroked to the opposite field at will, finishing 2-for-5 with three RBIs and a run scored.

You can't stop Mussina at Turner Field.

Who cares if American League play resumes tonight at Camden Yards? Who cares if Harold Baines is one of the greatest designated hitters ever?

Orioles manager Ray Miller has got to find a place in his lineup for Mussina, or be fired at sundown.

Orioles 22, Braves 1.

Let's see the Ravens win a game this season by 21.

Seriously, who kidnapped the Orioles and replaced them with a real team? And why can't they play AL opponents as tough as they played the big, bad Braves?

Viewers of ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" probably think the Orioles are headed to the World Series -- they've outscored opponents, 37-7, in two appearances this season, and last night handed the Braves their worst loss ever in Atlanta.

No one will remember that Mussina worked seven innings for the victory, improving his record to 8-3.

Hitters rule.

And Mussina is a hitter now.

He actually ordered bats for the first time this season -- 34-inch, 32-ounce models. But he might run out of wood if he stays hot in the next round of interleague play.

"If I get a hit, the bat's done," Mussina said, practically blowing on his fingers. "Two of 'em are retired now."

Whatever, they should erect a monument to Mussina next to the statue of Hank Aaron at Turner Field.

The park is his personal playground.

Two years ago, Mussina went 1-for-2 at Turner with a single off

John Smoltz, the Orioles' first hit by a pitcher since Roric Harrison's homer on Oct. 3, 1972, the last game before the DH rule went into effect.

Last night, he delivered an opposite-field RBI double over the head of Braves left fielder Ryan Klesko and a two-out, two-strike, opposite-field single with the bases loaded.

After the double, the Montoursville Masher turned to second-base umpire Brian Gorman and said with a grin: "No one's more surprised than I am."

"He said he brought his heavy bat up there to get the ball over the outfielder's head," Will Clark said, marveling at Mussina's left-handed stroke. "Then he brought his lighter bat up there to use his Tony Gwynn stroke to get the ball in the hole."

At 6 feet 2 and 185 pounds, Mussina sure isn't relying on dietary supplements, though reporters surrounded his locker last night, searching for Andro.

His nickname is Moose, all right.

Moose, as in Moose Skowron.

With a little help from his friends, Mussina helped the Orioles complete a three-game sweep of the Braves in which they outscored the NL East leaders, 33-3.

Last night's run total was the Orioles' highest since Aug. 28, 1967, more than a year before Mussina was born. Their 11 extra-base hits tied a club record, and their 25 hits were one short.

Let's just say they saw the ball well.

Cal Ripken became the first player in the Orioles' 46-year history to produce a six-hit game, raising his average from .298 to .328. Ripken also hit career homers 390 and 391 -- on second thought, maybe the Orioles should exercise his option immediately.

Clark was Palmeiro-like, hitting a homer and career-high three doubles. B. J. Surhoff extended his hitting streak to 14 games, raising his average to .348 by going 2-for-3 with a walk.

Even Albert Belle joined the fun.

Excerpts from Belle's postgame news conference:

"I'd like to thank my manager for benching me and showing me the error of my ways.

"I'd like to thank my hitting coach for all his work with me during these trying times.

"And finally, I'd like to thank the media for pointing out to me how the game should be played."

All right, so there was no news conference.

The real news is No. 88 is baaaaack.

Two hits Saturday, three more last night, including a rare double. Maybe Miller should bench him more often. And maybe the Orioles will never lose again.

Eleven games under .500, and counting.

Here they come!

There was no way to anticipate any of this -- the Orioles opened interleague play by losing two of three to both Philadelphia and Florida, and stormed into Atlanta with a 9-22 road record.

Fans should bask in the moment, knowing that the weekend at Ted and Jane's place could prove one of the highlights of the season.

And they should cross their fingers that the storm clouds surrounding Belle have passed, at least for now.

No one will ever admit it, but perhaps Miller's benching of Belle for the first game of the Atlanta series served as a wake-up call for the temperamental slugger.

Does it even matter now that the Orioles have discovered a new slugger?

Chicks dig the long ball.

Chicks dig Mike Mussina.

Pub Date: 6/14/99

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