Road rally has Mussina in Cy race

2-run 7th, 4-run 8th lift O's by Red Sox, 6-1, give ace 13th victory

Martinez injury opens door

Ripken returns, caps 8th with 2-run single

July 22, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- Instead of discussing whiplash, Mike Mussina stood in the middle of the visitors' clubhouse last night describing a 6-1 win over the Boston Red Sox, an outcome improbable for many reasons but perfectly logical given Mussina's status as American League pitcher of the moment.

Mussina held down the Red Sox for eight innings while the Orioles rallied against Bret Saberhagen for a two-run seventh and used two-run hits by Jeff Conine and Cal Ripken to break open a one-run game in the eighth. The late reversal not only gave Mussina his fourth win in as many starts this month, but also elevated him as a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate as the Red Sox ponder the health of their spindly ace, Pedro Martinez.

"I've got a lot of work to do to get to that plateau," Mussina said. "To have 13 wins in 21 starts with 14 or 15 more to go, I've got a chance. But I've had a chance a couple other years and it hasn't worked out."

Mussina has stood on 13 wins at this juncture in other seasons only to be denied 20 wins. Yet rarely have the stars seemed so perfectly aligned.

It has been this kind of week for Team Intrigue:

Mussina's sport utility vehicle gets rear-ended while pausing for a garbage truck Tuesday afternoon, yet it's Martinez who will miss at least his next start because of a shoulder injury. (Manager Ray Miller called Mussina so many times yesterday that Mussina finally snapped that he was fine. Miller intended to use Scott Erickson on three days' rest if Mussina's neck and back stiffened before the game.)

Last night's pivotal play comes on Darren Lewis' one-out hit-and-run single in the Red Sox's fifth inning that evolves into a six-touch rundown worth two outs. Though all the action takes place between second and third base, Mussina and first baseman Will Clark participate in the madcap chase.

Ripken begins the week contemplating the disabled list and ends last night with two hits and two RBIs, his first since suffering a deep wrist bruise last Thursday against the Montreal Expos.

The uplifting culmination was the 41-53 Orioles' seventh win in nine games. They raised their record to 7-25 within the American League East, climbed out of last place in the division, won three straight on the road for only the third time this season, and raised their record to 35-37 following a disastrous April.

Again confined to a ninth-inning role, Mike Timlin pitched a scoreless inning to cap the win before 33,690, Fenway Park's largest crowd this season.

The game turned on the Red Sox seeing too much Mussina (13-4) and not enough of starting pitcher Bret Saberhagen.

Saberhagen (6-4) has used the Orioles as a prop twice this season. On June 23, he celebrated his return from the disabled list by pitching 5 1/3 innings of a 5-0 shutout and earning his first win since April 13. Last night, he received a loss after making a push for his longest start since July 29, 1995, the last time he pitched eight innings.

Well aware that Saberhagen had walked only seven in 67 1/3 innings entering the game, the Orioles were determined not to allow him to get ahead. Instead, they swung hard and often at Saberhagen's first offerings. The result was a sprint through six innings that left them trailing 1-0.

But the Orioles trapped Saberhagen in the seventh inning because of a leadoff error by first baseman Mike Stanley, Ripken's first hit since suffering a deep bruise of his right wrist, well-worn catcher Charles Johnson's second RBI in 32 at-bats and Brady Anderson's go-ahead sacrifice fly.

The game quickly unraveled around Red Sox manager Jimy Williams once he introduced his bullpen. Derek Lowe was charged with four earned runs while failing to get an out in the eighth inning.

Mussina's effort leaves the Orioles' rejuvenated starting rotation 17-10 over the past 41 games. More telling, there have been 27 quality starts over that span. Since May, Mussina is 6-2 with a 2.65 ERA.

Suddenly getting rear-ended because of an idling garbage truck and an inexperienced driver didn't seem as painful. Mussina, deprived of three wins by a butterfingered bullpen and a fourth because of his manager's hopeful move in Seattle, eventually controlled a game in which he trailed after the third hitter. He didn't fritter the chance.

After three of the game's first four hitters reached against him, Mussina retired 11 consecutive batters. He didn't face a runner in scoring position again until the sixth inning.

Then he benefited from what may be the season's most bizarre defensive play during a problematic fifth.

With one out and catcher Jason Varitek on first base, Darren Lewis grounded into the hole between first base and second base. Jeff Reboulet scrambled to smother the ball but could not find the handle to make a play on Lewis. Rather than concede the play, Reboulet alertly wheeled toward second base, throwing to shortstop Mike Bordick to trap Varitek in no man's land.

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