ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Mike Mussina, in dogged pursuit of his first 20-win season, makes his first start tonight since one of the game's most remarkable statistics fell. Not only did the Orioles ace suffer the decision in the Orioles' 4-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers last Friday, he suffered a loss in a third consecutive start for the first time in his nine-year major-league career, a span of 247 starts.
Though admittedly disappointed over this season's direction, Mussina did take pride from an obscure statistic that speaks of consistency.
"Everybody gets excited about wins and ERA and saves. Those things are pretty obvious," said Mussina, who brings a 13-7 record and 3.68 ERA into tonight's start against Tampa Bay. "But to a pitcher there are other statistics that are probably just as important -- innings pitched, starts. Those are things that indicate you're a guy who can be counted on to keep his team in the game.
"Except for last season, when a couple freak things happened, those numbers have worked out for me. To know that I went that long without that kind of [losing] streak is pretty satisfying."
Friday's loss left Mussina with only the fourth three-game losing streak of his career. However, he was unaware that he had never suffered such a skid in consecutive starts.
His avoidance of losses in three straight starts this deep into a career is a club record; however, research has not been conducted on whether the accomplishment might rank industry-wide.
Mussina entered the season ranked ninth all-time and first among active pitchers in winning percentage and has never suffered more than 11 losses in a season while winning at least 13 the last eight seasons. Boston Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez has passed him in win percentage this season.
Uneven run support and an accident-prone bullpen have cost Mussina at least four wins this season. He has lost a 10-strikeout complete game, failed to receive a decision in a five-inning shutout start abbreviated by rain, and on Aug. 1 lost a three-hit complete game against the Seattle Mariners. The Orioles have scored 14 runs in his last six losses.
Meanwhile Mussina's ERA has dropped from 5.90 at the end of April to 3.70 at the All-Star break to its current figure, which ranks as the league's fifth-best behind Martinez, David Cone, Brad Radke and Chris Carpenter.
"If you have a strong season individually or if your team wins, you consider it a successful year," Mussina said. "As long as one of those happens you have something to draw on.
"Unfortunately, things haven't worked out the way we would want this year. But with a couple exceptions, I've been pretty happy with the way I've pitched so far. I feel like I've given the team a chance to win almost every time I've gone out there."
Tonight, Mussina will attempt to compensate for the roughest start of the season, an April 21 fiasco in which he surrendered 10 earned runs and 11 hits in 3 2/3 innings against the Devil Rays here. The loss pumped Mussina's ERA to 6.14 and tied him for the second-most earned runs ever allowed by an Orioles starting pitcher.
Bordick contract vests
An important milepost has passed in shortstop Mike Bordick's career. The option on his guaranteed three-year contract vested for 2000 after Bordick received his 500th plate appearance during last night's fifth inning.
Though Bordick believed the option vested earlier this season when he achieved 1,000 plate appearances over the past two seasons, last night made his status official. The $9 million contract he signed before the 1997 season carried a $3 million option for a fourth season. Had Bordick not received enough plate appearances he would've been eligible for free agency after this season.
"I didn't want that," he said before last night's four-hit, five-RBI performance. "My family likes Baltimore. I want to stay here."
Initially viewed as a pricey acquisition, Bordick now represents a bargain within an $84 million payroll. Having purchased a home in Ruxton, the lure of a more lucrative deal with a more successful franchise holds no appeal.
"It's significant because this is where I want to play," said Bordick, less than enthused when his name surfaced during trade talks last month. "It's a great town and this means I'll be here at least another year, hopefully longer."
What do Orioles utility player Rich Amaral and Wade Boggs have in common? Both cracked their last home run off Cleveland left-hander Chris Haney. Boggs' homer came last Saturday for his 3,000th hit. Amaral's came April 20, 1998, while with the Mariners.
Since his average stood at .179 on May 21, Amaral is hitting .361 (26-for-72) in his reserve role, including a double off reliever Boggs last night. Amaral has played six positions and served as designated hitter, pinch hitter and pinch runner this season. His seven steals rank him fourth on the team.
Around the horn