Mussina, O's trip Twins

He wins 15th, 8-3, as Conine has 4 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 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 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 four-hit performance by first baseman Jeff Conine and a three-hit evening from B. J. Surhoff. Harold Baines contributed his 24th home run 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.

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

The Twins took advantage of a leadoff double by Marty Cordova and an RBI single by veteran catcher Terry Steinbach in the second inning to jump in front, then scored twice in the fourth on a leadoff homer by Ron Coomer and a handcrafted run by the bottom of the their batting order.

It could have been worse. The Twins went on to load the bases in the second inning before Mussina worked out of trouble.

It could have been much worse. Mussina put his potential 20-win season on the line when he sacrificed his body in an unsuccessful attempt to cut down the second run of the fourth inning.

He made a diving attempt at a swinging bunt by No. 9 hitter Cristian Guzman with two outs, then made an awkward attempt to throw the ball while he was sprawled on the turf. The throw was late and Matt Lawton streaked home from third, but the Orioles had to be happy that Mussina didn't strain his elbow or shoulder on the play.

Mussina apparently figured 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 twice since July 1.

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

Belle got the fourth-inning rally started without swinging his bat. He drew a leadoff walk and stole second base before designated hitter Harold 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 of the season, but the Orioles lost a chance to tie the game on that swing when Baines was thrown out stealing -- apparently because of a missed hit-and-run sign.

No matter. The Orioles parlayed a leadoff double by Ryan Minor into the tying run in the fifth, when Minor moved up on a ground out and streaked home from third after tagging up on a foul ball behind first base.

Conine was all over the place. He had singled in his first at-bat, hit the home run left 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 in the seventh.

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

Corsi retired leadoff man Chad Allen and No. 2 hitter Brent Gates on ground balls before Orosco took the mound to a standing ovation. He got Todd Walker on a fly ball to center and walked into the history books.

Then it was just a matter of making sure that Mussina got his 15th victory. Baines provided some insurance with his 24th home run.

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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