Mussina is again thrown for loss

2 straight Tigers HRs in 8th seal ace's 3rd defeat in row, 4-3

August 07, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

It was happening to Mike Mussina all over again. He wasn't giving up much last night, but he also wasn't getting enough support. And lurking in the shadows was another crushing defeat, the kind that flattens a potential 20-win season and makes a pitcher question his fate.

The hammer fell in the seventh inning when a double by Detroit's Brad Ausmus scored Kimera Bartee with the go-ahead run. It struck even harder in the eighth when Mussina served up two homers on consecutive pitches in the Tigers' 4-3 victory over the Orioles that ended a nine-game losing streak before 41,708 at Camden Yards.

Mussina (13-7) has lost three straight decisions for the fourth time in a career that spans 247 starts. The Orioles have scored two runs or fewer in four of his last six defeats, and were about to do it again until Charles Johnson homered in the ninth.

Mussina was driven from last night's game after Juan Encarnacion and Frank Catalanotto took him deep with one out, the ninth and 10th hits he surrendered.

In his last outing, Mussina kept Seattle without a hit through five innings, but allowed two runs in the eighth in a 3-1 loss that included a throwing error by emergency third baseman Jeff Conine that scored the lead run. It was Mussina's fourth complete game, and third that ended in defeat.

"It's tough not getting runs for a guy like that who really deserves it," Johnson said of Mussina, who allowed at least one runner in every inning. "He's been holding teams down. But you've got to tip your hat to Detroit. They got key hits when they needed them."

"He was outstanding again," said manager Ray Miller. "I've been here three years and when he gets in position to really pile up some victories, it seems like we don't score any runs for him. I don't know what it is."

Mussina left without speaking to reporters.

The Tigers have served as Mussina's punching bag throughout his career. He began last night with a 15-2 record when facing Detroit -- his best mark against any team -- with a 2.33 ERA in 21 starts. He had won eight straight decisions since losing on June 18, 1995. Mussina hadn't lost to the Tigers in Baltimore since June 1, 1994.

He never had the lead last night. The Orioles wiped out a 1-0 deficit in the fifth, but Detroit went ahead in the seventh on a leadoff single by Bartee and a double over third base by Ausmus.

The back-to-back home runs provided a necessary cushion for journeyman Dave Mlicki (6-10), who allowed a two-run homer to Johnson with none out in the ninth. Closer Todd Jones was greeted by a single from Delino DeShields before slamming the door for his 16th save.

Johnson has homered in all five games against Detroit this season. He had gone without one since June 25 until connecting on Thursday.

Mussina struck out four of the first five batters he faced, but walked Encarnacion and hit Catalanotto with one out in the second. For this club, against this pitcher, it amounted to an early shelling.

It didn't amount to anything else. Mussina got the last two outs without the ball leaving the infield.

Two more Tigers reached with one out in the third, both soft singles that fell in front of Albert Belle in right field. Wading through the middle of Detroit's lineup, Mussina struck out Dean Palmer and Tony Clark to keep the game scoreless until the fifth.

Former Oriole Luis Polonia singled with one out, took second on a high chopper to short and scored when Damion Easley grounded a single into left field. Polonia hadn't played in the majors since September 1996 with Atlanta before being recalled from Triple-A in late May. He entered last night batting .360.

The Orioles tied it in the fifth, but could have gotten much more if not for a diving catch by Bartee. DeShields led off by grounding a single up the middle. He was moving with one out when Brady Anderson singled to right and easily took third.

Mike Bordick followed with a drive to right-center field that Bartee, a former Orioles farmhand, corralled just before the ball hit the ground. DeShields scored, but Anderson was stranded after stealing second. It would prove one of the night's most crucial plays.

Mlicki, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in April, has only one victory in the last month. He lost a 5-0 decision to Scott Erickson on May 9 in Detroit, giving up two runs in six innings.

The only hit off him through three innings last night was an infield single by Belle -- his 1,500th career hit.

Ryan Minor reached on an error with out in the third, and Anderson walked to threaten Mlicki. Bordick nearly put three runs on the board with a drive toward the left-field corner that Encarnacion caught at the fence.

"In the first three innings, it seemed like we centered every ball we hit, right at people," Miller said. "[Mlicki] settled down in the middle innings. He started throwing a lot of changeups and backdoor sliders. That's what pitching is all about. You throw strikes, you've got a chance."

Will Clark poked a two-out single into right-center field in the fourth, but Johnson popped to short. Johnson almost homered in the sixth, flying to the warning track in center with Clark at second following a walk and a stolen base.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Detroit Tigers

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 05

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Tigers' Dave Borkowski (0-2, 7.50) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (7-9, 5.77)

Tickets: About 2,500 remain Pub Date: 8/07/99

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