O's glow, too, drop Twins, 8-3

Mussina wins 15th

Conine has four hits

August 18, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Once in a while, if you look hard enough, you can see why the Orioles were considered a legitimate playoff contender at the start of this disappointing season.

Take, for instance, last night's 8-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins, which featured every aspect of championship-caliber baseball, including Mike Mussina's 15th victory and a historic two-pitch appearance by venerable reliever Jesse Orosco -- who became the major leagues' all-time leader in pitching appearances in the seventh inning.

It wasn't Mussina's best performance of the year, but it was complemented by a resourceful Orioles offensive attack and even some stylish defensive play by oft-maligned outfielder Albert Belle.

The Orioles recovered from a three-run deficit on the strength of a career-high-tying four-hit performance by first baseman Jeff Conine and a three-hit evening from B. J. Surhoff. Harold Baines contributed his 24th home run, the bullpen was airtight and the 40,485 fans at Camden Yards were left to imagine what this summer would have been like if this was the way the club had played all year.

And the fans aren't the only ones.

"I think that crosses our minds every time it happens this way," said Mussina. "We'll get on a streak and play this way every day, then -- all of the sudden -- we don't play that way anymore. We don't do the things we need to do to be a winning team. I don't know why. It's a pretty fickle club."

For the third start in a row, Mussina allowed at least nine hits, something he had done just three other times in the previous three months before falling into an uncharacteristic three-game losing streak in late July.

"I was really battling from the very first batter of the game," Mussina said. "I got my breaking ball going in the third and fourth and things got a little better."

Mussina had to assume that he did not have much margin for error at that point. He had lost three of his previous four starts, even though he had surrendered more than two earned runs just three times since July 1.

This time, however, the Orioles did not go quietly into the dark August night. They scored two runs in the fourth inning and single runs in the fifth and sixth to erase the Minnesota lead and knock out 23-year-old Twins starter Joe Mays.

"I don't like putting us down by three runs," Mussina said, "but we played solid defense and battled back. The bullpen came in and pitched awesome. It was pretty textbook."

Belle got the fourth-inning rally started without swinging his bat. He drew a leadoff walk and stole second base before Baines lined a single to left-center to bring home the first Orioles' run.

Conine accounted for the other run with his 10th home run, but the Orioles lost a chance to tie the game on that swing because earlier in the at-bat he froze up on a hit-and-run play and hung Baines out to dry on the bases.

No matter. The Orioles parlayed a leadoff double by Ryan Minor into the tying run in the fifth, when Minor moved up on a groundout and streaked home from third after tagging up on a foul ball behind first base. The most important play of the game may have happened in the top of that inning, however, when Belle picked up a base hit by Marty Cordova and threw a perfect strike to nail Brent Gates at third base.

The assist was Belle's third in the past four games, tying him with Kansas City's Jermaine Dye for the league lead with 14 outfield assists.

Conine was all over the place, too. He had singled in his first at-bat, hit the home run to left-center in the fourth and bounced a ground-rule double into the left-field bleachers in the sixth. He went on to score the go-ahead run in the sixth on a wild pitch by reliever Travis Miller, then tied a career high with his fourth hit of the game in the bottom of the seventh -- raising his average to .302.

"He's just been great all year," said manager Ray Miller. "I think he's handled everything perfectly. I think filling in when Will [Clark] went down for five weeks early in the season really helped him get established. I don't know how many at-bats he has, but hopefully, I can get him a lot more."

Mussina did not return for the seventh inning. He already had thrown 108 pitches, thanks to the lengthy second inning, so Miller brought on Jim Corsi as a prelude to the historic appearance by Orosco.

Then it was just a matter of making sure that Mussina got his 15th victory and Orosco didn't celebrate his achievement in the losing clubhouse. Baines provided some insurance with his home run in the bottom of the seventh and the Orioles kept pounding away, with Surhoff adding a two-run single in the eighth, until the game was out of reach.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Twins' LaTroy Hawkins (8-9, 6.98) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (8-10, 5.76)

Tickets: About 9,000 remain

Pub Date: 8/18/99

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