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 -- It may be too late for the Orioles to alter the course of a 41-53 season. But for their signature and often star-crossed starting pitcher, the last several days may represent an opportunity to turn a merely excellent year into a historic one.

Mike Mussina (13-4) pitched eight innings to take the 6-1 decision over the Boston Red Sox before 33,690 at Fenway Park, lifting the Orioles out of last place in the American League East. Only a day after being rear-ended in a traffic mishap, Mussina may have widened a sliver of opportunity to make the Cy Young Award race more than a coronation for Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez. While Mussina pitched after an accident, Martinez is the larger question. A sore right shoulder has at least temporarily sidelined the All-Star Game starter and left Mussina as the American League's pitcher of the moment.

Of his quest for his first 20-win season, Mussina said: "I've got a lot of work to do to get to that plateau. 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 beat Bret Saberhagen by waiting out an early 1-0 deficit. Brady Anderson's seventh-inning sacrifice fly provided the game-winning RBI, and designated hitter Jeff Conine and third baseman Cal Ripken provided two-run hits in the eighth.

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

Saberhagen (5-3) 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. To add to his degree of difficulty, Saberhagen pitched with stitches in his foot, the aftermath of the household accident that put him on the DL.

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 spring through six innings that left them trailing 1-0.

Saberhagen couldn't make it through the seventh inning. The Orioles trapped him there thanks to a leadoff error by first baseman Mike Stanley, Ripken's first hit since suffering a deep bruise of his right wrist and Charles Johnson's second RBI in 32 at-bats. They mounted the rally despite Jeff Reboulet's botched bunt when the night's starting second baseman navigated a first-to-third on Johnson's pivotal single.

The Orioles grabbed a 2-1 lead when Anderson greeted left-hander Rheal Cormier with a two-strike sacrifice fly that scored Reboulet.

Suddenly, getting rear-ended because of an idling garbage truck and an inexperienced driver didn't seem as painful. Mussina, denied three wins because of a butterfingered bullpen and a fourth because of his manager's hopeful move in Seattle, was allowed to control a game he had trailed since the game's 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. And 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. 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, trapping Varitek in no man's land between second and third.

The ensuing rundown resembled traffic control for a night game at Camden Yards. Varitek drew three throws before Lewis tried to gain second base behind the play. He was tagged out there by first baseman Will Clark, who still had ample time to resume the chase for Varitek.

After two more relays, Varitek was exhausted and tagged out easily by Reboulet for the second out on what began as an infield single for Lewis.

Orioles manager Ray Miller said jokingly of the rundown: "We could've designed that play in spring training and told everybody it would happen and they would say, `Right, this will happen.' "

Said Reboulet of his decision to make the snap throw to second: "I know the guy's going to second base" on the pitch. "If I throw it to Bordick at second, I know we've either got a shot at him trying to get back to the bag or a chance at him at third. So I'm throwing there either way. It worked out well. Everybody was where they were supposed to be. If we screw up that coverage, it's a hit all the way."

Clark did his part during the rundown, moving up to cover second base.

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