Mussina soaks up Rays

Ace goes 7 2/3 to win first in 3 weeks, 4-2, on Surhoff, Belle HRs

14th renews 20-win chase

Orosco ties Wilhelm

Timlin: 6th save in row

August 12, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Channel surfing past Jerry Springer, Real TV and other oddities yesterday afternoon, Orioles manager Ray Miller wished for something equally bizarre, a working lead for Mike Mussina.

Wish granted.

For a pitcher with seemingly everything, including a five-pitch assortment, Mussina had lacked run support in two previous August appearances. The result was three consecutive starts ending in losses, something unprecedented in a high-percentage nine-year career encompassing 247 starts.

But handed a 3-0 head start on a Harold Baines RBI single and back-to-back home runs from B. J. Surhoff and Albert Belle, Mussina gained his first win since July 21 with a 4-2 decision over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Springer aside, today the world is a more normal place.

Not only did the win lift the Orioles to 51-63, but it also restored Mussina's belief that his first 20-win season is still possible.

It also indicated that Surhoff is not done with building a career season and that Belle is riding a season-long hitting streak.

Mussina's 7 2/3 innings still allowed space enough for Jesse Orosco to draw within two games of the all-time appearance record and Mike Timlin to convert his sixth consecutive save chance. Timlin's shutout ninth inning kept intact a stretch in which he has not allowed an earned run since July 6.

"You're not going to win every time you pitch great," said Mussina. "Sometimes success on my part still leads to failure in the long run. That's just the way the game is. Or I could not pitch very well, be disappointed in my game, and we still find a way to win. It works both ways.

"I can only keep going out there and try to keep doing my job, trust the game, trust the guys you're playing with and try to win every time."

Mussina (14-7) was less than dominant but efficient enough to sidestep several potential pratfalls in a game that he desperately needed to right himself. The last-place Devil Rays started the second inning with consecutive hits before Paul Sorrento flied out and ex-Oriole Aaron Ledesma grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Mussina's most serious challenge came in the sixth inning, when a rapid-fire series of three flares and ground-ball hits loaded the bases with one out. He escaped by getting Wade Boggs to ground into an RBI fielder's choice and freezing right fielder Jose Guillen for a strikeout. Boggs had singled his first two trips to push his hit total to 3,003.

"Considering the way things were going, I'll take it any way I can get it," said Mussina. "I think I threw the ball pretty well the last two games, and it didn't work out. Today I threw pretty good. We got some big hits. We had a couple homers and played solid defense. We had good relief pitching, also."

The Orioles didn't crush Devil Rays starting pitcher Rolando Arrojo (2-8), who has not won since May 18. But they received enough from Surhoff early against Arrojo and from Brady Anderson late against reliever Rick White to piece together their third road win in four games.

Surhoff singled, doubled and homered in his first three at-bats and finished with his second four-hit game this season. Baines delivered a one-out single for his 75th RBI. Belle followed Surhoff's career-high-tying 22nd home run to lead off the fifth inning with one of his own, giving the Orioles a 3-0 lead and, combined with an earlier single, running his season-high hitting streak to nine games.

In the last week, Surhoff's average had fallen to .319, dropping him from the league's top 10 for the first time in more than six weeks. He suffered an 0-for-3 night in the Orioles' 17-1 romp Tuesday, leaving him only 6-for-38 in his last nine games.

Surhoff's home run to right-center field was his first since July 24, a span of 24 games that included his 35th birthday, two starts at third base and narrowly keeping alive his stretch of 276 consecutive games, which leads the major leagues.

He once appeared a lock to beat Cal Ripken's 16-year-old franchise record of 211 hits in a season. Surhoff entered last night with his pace reduced to 216 hits. He exited needing 56 hits in the Orioles' last 48 games.

"I swung at strikes instead of balls," said Surhoff, not one for overstatement. "I haven't been very good at the plate lately. I've been very jumpy, and I haven't been letting the ball get to the plate. I've been trying to do too much.

"I didn't try to hit that ball [for a home run]. He just hung a slider, and I reacted to it."

The Orioles stranded 13 but were only 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position. But they built a 4-1 lead in the eighth inning by converting shortstop Jeff Reboulet's third walk to lead off. Having stranded six of the Orioles' previous 11 runners left on, Anderson doubled into the left-field corner.

Third base coach Sam Perlozzo gambled successfully by waving Reboulet, who beat the relay with a fadeaway slide around catcher John Flaherty.

The staff leader in innings, Mussina couldn't get through the eighth, when Flaherty's two-out single scored Bubba Trammell for a 4-2 game and brought Boggs to the plate as the tying run.

Miller called upon Orosco to perform his signature role -- disposing quickly of a left-handed hitter. With Boggs again center stage on a crucial at-bat, Orosco worked him outside and induced a limp grounder to first base.

Orosco's fleeting appearance was the 1,070th of this career, tying him with Hoyt Wilhelm for second-most all-time. As the season waits for Ripken's 400th home run and 3,000th hit, Orosco offers the Orioles' most compelling historical significance. His next game will tie Dennis Eckersley's all-time record set last October with the Boston Red Sox.

"We have to play good baseball every day," said Miller. "We have a lot of things wrong with this team, and yet nobody's ever quit. We lost a tough game the first day and came back to score 17 [Tuesday]."

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