Mussina takes a hit as O's roll

Pitcher takes line drive off shoulder in third, forced to leave game

Injury also KO's Rhodes

Offense rips Navarro in 9-4 rout of White Sox

August 23, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Mike Mussina saw this one coming.

Two innings plus two batters into the 27th start of his ninth major-league season, Mussina saw his pitch explode off the bat of Chicago White Sox catcher Brook Fordyce and scream back at him.

Mussina could only turn his pitching shoulder into the line drive, which ricocheted far enough toward the visitors dugout that third baseman Ryan Minor could field it and throw over the prostrate Mussina for the inning's first out.

"I knew when he hit it it was coming to me," Mussina said.

In a 9-4 Orioles win offset by two pitching losses, Mussina left the game for X-rays after attempting two warm-up pitches. Left-hander Arthur Rhodes relieved him and also was sidelined in the fourth inning when center fielder Chris Singleton's one-hop grounder caught him on the left index finger.

The situation became serious enough that center fielder Brady Anderson entered the bullpen for a quick audition while Doug Johns came on to relieve Rhodes.

Given the Orioles' six-run third-inning outburst against White Sox starter Jaime Navarro that followed his injury, the run-starved Mussina could only see irony in the situation.

"My career is an irony," Mussina quipped.

Given his team's grind to add a positive fringe to an otherwise drab tapestry, manager Ray Miller saw mostly a metaphor for a squandered season.

"When Mike went down, I said this is what I got. When Rhodes went down, I said this is what I got. Brady was out there warming up in the bullpen. I would have to say that we haven't been very fortunate or that I haven't been very fortunate," Miller said.

Orioles officials could not say whether either pitcher appeared destined for the disabled list, but the incident argued against Mussina (15-7) reaching one of the most anticipated individual achievements of the season: the first 20-win season of his glossy career and the first by an Orioles pitcher since Mike Boddicker in 1984. Mussina brandished a scarlet welt on his right deltoid muscle, which is located in the same vicinity as the back of the rotator cuff.

The ball's impact was severe enough to raise seams on his back.

"It's sore. It hurts. It's got swelling and everything else that goes along with getting hit by a ball like that," Mussina said. "We have to work it out and see what we can do."

As for Rhodes, he had trouble flexing a finger he described as jammed and bruised and will visit a hand specialist today in Baltimore.

Rhodes threw three warm-ups after the fourth-inning incident. He was able to throw freely on two fastballs but cringed when attempting a slider.

"He popped two and threw one breaking ball said, `It bothers me when I throw a breaking ball.' The trainer said to get him out of there. I wanted to say, `Don't throw a breaking ball,' " Miller said.

Almost traded to the Oakland A's within the last 10 days, Rhodes, a pending free agent, has endured a difficult season of shifting roles, an uneven relationship with his manager and on-again, off-again contract extension talks. His injury stemmed from a stumble that caused him to prematurely put his pitching hand near his glove. Singleton's grounder hit the back of the index finger. When Rhodes fell backward, he broke his fall with the same hand.

Johns (3-2), who took the loss in the second game of Saturday's day-night doubleheader, earned the win with 4 1/3 solid innings. He surrendered a three-run homer to White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko in the eighth inning, but by then the Orioles had punished Navarro for nine runs on 13 hits, including second baseman Delino DeShields' two-run single and first baseman Jeff Conine's three-run homer in the third inning.

Harold Baines contributed two RBIs and B. J. Surhoff cracked his 24th home run in the seventh.

The nine runs were only five fewer than the Orioles had scored in Mussina's last six losses.

Twenty wins and a Cy Young Award represent the missing lines on Mussina's otherwise glittering resume. Long considered one of the game's elite in every other respect, Mussina has 133 major-league victories and the second-highest win percentage among active pitchers without achieving the game's most recognized single-season standard for excellence.

He has been deprived of the elusive goal once by a players strike, another time by his bullpen and in other instances by himself.

In 1994, Mussina had won 16 of 24 starts by August and appeared a virtual lock for 20 victories. But then the Major League Players Association called a strike and never returned that season, canceling the pennant race, a World Series and Mussina's chase. Mussina earned the right to win 19 games in 1995 when the strike's hangover chopped off the first 18 games -- the equivalent of four starts.

Mussina calls his 19-11 mark in 1996 a "throwaway" season because of a career-worst 4.81 ERA. However, he had four shots in September at winning his 20th game, and left his final start with a lead only to have Armando Benitez blow the save.

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