PHILADELPHIA -- For once it was a beautiful night in Ray Miller's neighborhood, even if the setting was inside humid, smelly Veterans Stadium.
When Miller pencils Mike Mussina as his starting pitcher, Arthur Rhodes and Mike Timlin providing him two innings of perfect relief and Will Clark backing up his insistence for playing time with an angry bat, the self-destructive Philadelphia Phillies have little chance. At least that's how it looked during the Orioles' 8-4 win before 32,300.
Mussina (11-4) completed a satisfying first half by winning his first professional start in his native state. Clark returned to first base and supplied his seventh home run, three runs and two important defensive plays in the fifth inning.
"It was a good day. We won a game, which hadn't happened for a few days," Mussina said.
If only 85 games had not come before, one might believe all was right with the Orioles, who lifted their record to 35-51, won for the second time in 14 games on artificial turf and ended a four-game losing streak. The win was the Orioles' third in 17 games and featured Rhodes and Timlin working effectively in their original roles.
The Orioles handed Mussina a six-run lead against All-Star Phillies starter Paul Byrd (11-5) and watched the Phillies punish themselves beneath a spate of errors that allowed for three unearned runs. In contrast, the Orioles played error-free defense, gave away nothing on the bases and turned each of Miller's moves into gold.
Clark started for the first time since experiencing swelling in his left knee last weekend and sparked the offense along with rookie Jerry Hairston's three-run homer. When Miller replaced Clark with a pinch hitter in the ninth, Jeff Conine made it work with an RBI single that was followed by Cal Ripken's RBI double.
Mussina received his fourth win in his past five decisions as a going-away gift to the All-Star Game. Mussina was overpowering for six of his seven innings and used the six-run cushion to survive a four-run fifth.
His two previous starts were marked by diminished velocity and seven strikeouts in 11 2/3 combined innings. Mussina rediscovered his powerball last night. He struck out the side in the second and fourth innings, at one point ending a run of five straight strikeouts by getting Scott Rolen, Rico Brogna and Mike Lieberthal.
Through four innings Mussina had nine strikeouts, only one shy of his previous season high. He got his 12th in the seventh inning but only after the Phillies had put the outcome in doubt.
Mussina's heady week consisted of an abbreviated but grueling win over the New York Yankees last Monday, leaving him with 10 wins at the season's midpoint, and his selection to a fifth All-Star Game. Mussina remains the game's most accomplished pitcher never to win 20 games, having won 19 twice, but has rarely if ever enjoyed the kind of consistency he has achieved so far. Three of his starts and two of his losses have resulted in 2-1 outcomes.
Physically ill last weekend, he toughed out 5 1/3 innings to beat the Yankees. Last night his difficulties surfaced during the Phillies' four-run fifth inning immediately after he was asked to make a play on Marlon Anderson's leadoff bunt single.
Mussina sprinted toward the first base line, made the pickup and tried to make a twisting throw over the base runner's head. He failed as his throw sailed over Clark's head on the bunt single.
Wonderfully adept at avoiding breakout innings, Mussina couldn't control the bottom of the Phillies' lineup as a 6-0 game gained suspense.
Mussina walked Alex Arias and Phillies manager Terry Francona replied by lifting Byrd for pinch hitter Domingo Cedeno. Cedeno's single to center field scored Anderson and was followed two hitters later by Rob Ducey turning Mussina's 2-2 fastball around for a three-run homer to right field.
Ducey, one of only four Phillies to have previously faced Mussina, entered the game in a 2-for-24 funk. His home run brought Miller out of the dugout and started the bullpen.
The four-run outburst might have been worse if not for Clark's glove. He saved Ripken at least one error by scooping his short-hopped throw for the first out.
With two outs and Rolen at second following a double, Clark fielded Brogna's cued roller and flipped a stiff backhand to Mussina covering for the third out.
Only after stiffly lobbying Miller before the game did Clark get into the lineup. His obvious frustration over not facing a pair of right-handers the last several days caused him to seek a second audience with the manager beforehand. Miller second-guessed himself briefly for not having Clark and center fielder Brady Anderson in Friday's 4-2 loss to Curt Schilling, but reminded that a short-term benefit was not worth jeopardizing either player for the season. Clark's left knee and Anderson's hamstring problems made an appearance on artificial turf especially a risk.
"I gave Ray the green light for three days," Clark said. "He was being very careful, shall we say. Jeff [Conine] was swinging the bat well so that gave him the luxury of going with him. But I was ready."
Clark justified Miller's faith in the second inning when he reached Byrd for an opposite-field homer, his seventh.
The Orioles added another run in the fourth inning when Mussina furthered his reputation as a hitter with a single that scored Clark.
In the fifth, Hairston completed a four-run rally with a two-out, three-run homer to left field good for the six-run lead.
As a result, Miller was left to field questions about how to find a roster spot for the organizational prize. Even on the stinky side of Philadelphia, Miller had discovered a nicer place to sit.
Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies
Site: Veterans Stadium, Philadelphia
Time: 1: 35 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Scott Erickson (3-8, 6.34) vs. Phillies' Chad Ogea (4-8, 5.29)