Mussina pitching for All-Star berth tonight


Torre has front-row seat

Clark MRI encouraging

July 05, 1999|By Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko | Joe Strauss and Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Tonight Mike Mussina makes his final start before All-Star reserves are announced Wednesday. He will be throwing perched atop the bubble as New York Yankees manager Joe Torre juggles politics with qualifications to finalize his 28-man roster.

It would be perversely typical of Mussina's productive but frustrating first half if he wasn't named because of the Orioles' last-place standing. Mussina enters tonight's start 9-4 with a 3.70 ERA. Mussina's record is deceptive because of lacking bullpen support and his ERA distorted due to a single 10-run outing against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on April 21.

"I still look at it as a big deal," said Mussina, a four-time All-Star. "But if I don't go it's not the end of the world. It's not like I'll be hurt. A lot of guys have deserving numbers who aren't going to get to go."

Well aware that his team's disappointing first half works against his players, manager Ray Miller has lobbied Torre on behalf of DH Harold Baines, shortstop Mike Bordick, pitcher Sidney Ponson, catcher Charles Johnson, left fielder B. J. Surhoff and Mussina.

Third baseman Cal Ripken will be named a starter when fan balloting is announced today.

Whether Torre will take more than two Orioles in a year when the club owns the AL's second-worst record is uncertain. Asked yesterday about Surhoff, Torre sounded as if the left fielder had the team made unless he was overruled by league officials. "It's tough to say because if something comes up between now and then you don't want that to happen," Torre said. "They want to make the announcement Wednesday. His numbers are sure as hell as good as anybody's."

Not just the game's most productive 40-year-old, Baines has 58 RBIs in 206 at-bats, a ratio of one RBI every 3.6 at-bats. Baines ranks 11th in the American League in RBIs, but lacks enough plate appearances to qualify for the ratio lead. Only AL RBI leader Manny Ramirez (3.2) leads him. As recently as Saturday Miller bemoaned the lack of publicity for Bordick, whose strong defensive play and improved offense have been overwhelmed by the glitz of Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and Derek Jeter.

Ponson (7-5) is tied with Mussina for the team ERA lead. He and Mussina also are two of four AL pitchers with three complete games.

Johnson may benefit from an injury to Cleveland Indians catcher Sandy Alomar, the leader in voting. Only Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez is an obvious choice at the position.

Mussina, who has completed three of his last seven starts, has lost three wins to blown saves -- May 12, June 8 and June 30 -- and mishandled a fourth June 2 when asked to finish the eighth inning in Seattle after throwing 124 pitches. The June 8 blown save occurred when a rain delay in Florida forced him from a shutout after five innings.

In Mussina's last three losses he has received a total four runs of support. Aside from the Tampa Bay fiasco, the worst of his career, Mussina has crafted a 3.03 ERA, which would rank him fourth instead of ninth in the league.

Clark may avoid DL

First baseman Will Clark underwent a magnetic resonance imaging in Baltimore yesterday that showed no structural damage to his swollen left knee, according to club officials. Clark, scratched from Friday's lineup before returning to Baltimore Saturday, will likely rejoin the team when it returns home for a three-game series against Toronto but may remain inactive for a few more days.

Miller indicated before yesterday's game that he would consider carrying three catchers should Clark go on the disabled list. Instead, the club must clear roster space for catcher Lenny Webster by next weekend, either by optioning second baseman Jerry Hairston or making a trade. Second baseman Delino DeShields also is recuperating from a strained hamstring and should be available after the All-Star break.

Heat catches up to umpire

Plate umpire Greg Kosc, his clothes soaked with sweat, left the game with one out in the seventh inning because of heat exhaustion. He was helped from the field and received fluids in the umpire's room. Second base umpire Ed Hickox replaced Kosc and maintained the same wide strike zone.

Kosc received smelling salts as he shuffled toward the Yankees' dugout, wincing as if in pain. Earlier, an attendant sprayed his face and neck with water in an attempt to cool him as temperatures climbed near 100.

"He was turning red as an apple. I knew he was scuffling bad. I didn't know if he'd make it or not," said Orioles catcher Mike Figga.

"By the ninth inning I was struggling. I was feeling it bad. Between innings I was laying down in the tunnel. Running to first base and having to come back, I was out of air."

Torre also had concerns for Kosc, who left the game immediately after Surhoff's grand slam.

"He was hitting that wet towel early," Torre said. "From my old catching days, they tell you to stay out of that stuff until later in the game because as good as you feel, that's how bad the letdown is later."

Not everyone was so understanding.

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