Mussina gives O's half a loaf

18th win is shutout

Yanks then clinch, 12-5

October 01, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Given something to remember in the afternoon, Orioles fans were confronted with something to forget last night as Bronx-accented Camden Yards celebrated the New York Yankees' division-clinching win. Mike Mussina strong-armed his 18th win in the 5-0 opener before a previously unseen lineup was pummeled, 12-5, in a second game of unilateral disarmament.

As much of an announced crowd of 47,446 cheered them on against impressionable Baby Birds, the Yankees sealed their third American League East title in four seasons versus a concoction of minor-league call-ups, waiver claims, two regulars and an exhausted 20-year-old lefthander making his third major-league start against the better judgment of his manager.

Matt Riley again avoided his first major-league loss, but his troublesome 3 2/3 innings did nothing to change the opinion that he reached Baltimore this month considerably ahead of his time.

Riley surrendered four earned runs, eight hits, fourth-inning home runs to Shane Spencer and Scott Brosius, walked two and struck out none.

Had he not benefited from a second-inning double play and a pickoff, his line might have been more unsightly. As it is, the organization's month-long experiment left him with a 7.36 ERA.

It was enough to make a manager weep. He could be found in the visitors' clubhouse.

"You're talking to a 59-year-old guy who was fired at age 55," reminisced Yankees manager Joe Torre, emotional at the turnaround that has since occurred. "I had a little daughter born at the end of the same year. All of a sudden, it's the greatest time of my professonal life. It continues to amaze me that I've been fortunate enough to be here."

There is nothing fortunate about where the fourth-place Orioles stand. To the last, Ray Miller will have to juggle his starting rotation. He found out yesterday that neither Jason Johnson nor Scott Erickson will make his scheduled start. A plan to skip the fatigued Sidney Ponson on Sunday evaporated when Miller was forced to start Riley last night as a result of Doug Johns' sore right side.

Earlier this week, when general manager Frank Wren strongly suggested Miller start Riley, the manager initially refused and even met with the rookie on Wednesday to explain his reasoning.

"I had said no, I wasn't. Then this thing with Scotty came up and [Johns] had this rib thing. So I had to save [Doug] Linton to pitch for Scotty. Then Johnson comes in with a broken foot," Miller said.

Riley completed his major-league audition having allowed 30 baserunners against six strikeouts in 11 innings.

"He's very young. He's got to learn to relax," said Miller. "Before the game, I just think he's got to get back to just throwing the ball; getting back to his natural delivery and not worrying so much about mechanics."

Second baseman Jerry Hairston spiced the loss with his third four-hit game this season and lacked only a triple for the cycle. It was nearly lost within the Yankees' 17-hit, eight-walk barrage capped by a six-run eighth inning.

"Let's go, Yankees," serenaded the Orioles for much of the last few innings and much of the crowd's remnants stood for the final out as Allen Watson struck out Ryan Minor to end a 3: 53 forced march.

The split left the fourth-place Orioles 78-81 with three games left against the Boston Red Sox. If last night's giveaway clincher was ugly, Mussina's seven-inning effort in the opener was immaculate.

Striking out 10, walking one and extending a season-ending run of scoreless innings to 13, Mussina (18-7) virtually assured himself of finishing among the league's top three in Cy Young balloting by again coming tantalizingly close to his first 20-win season.

A players strike, an inexperienced closer and a deep bruise kept him from the 20 victories.

Asked about it, Mussina shrugged.

"I've been two outs away from 20," he said. "Not having a chance is not that big a deal. I'm not going to say I had an unsuccessful career if I never win 20 games, especially if I win 18 every season."

Stranded three times in his career with 19 wins, he was deprived of four starts this season after being struck behind his right shoulder by a line drive Aug. 22. The incident cost him that day's decision as he left a 9-4 Orioles win after only 2 1/3 innings.

Three times, Mussina received a loss as his reward for a complete game. Once, a rain delay forced him from a two-hit shutout without a decision. In his seven losses, the Orioles scored a combined 22 runs. He lost only twice when his team scored more than four runs.

The season left Mussina with losses in three consecutive starts (July 27-Aug. 11) for the first time in his nine-year career.

It left him with the worst beating of his career -- 10 earned runs in an April 21 loss at Tampa Bay. Even with the 3 2/3-inning trauma, he finishes with a 3.50 ERA, matching his career figure. Without the day in Tampa, Mussina's ERA shrivels to 3.11, second best in the league.

Still, Mussina began the season with a career .667 win percentage and bumped it to .673, leaving him with the game's highest active percentage, a feat made more amazing by the absence of a 20-win season or Cy Young Award in his professional resume.

It was the opposite story in Game 1 for Yankees starter Roger Clemens (14-9), who hit three batters, walked five and fell to 3-5 lifetime at Camden Yards.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7: 05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Sox's Bret Saberhagen (10-6, 3.00) vs. O's Doug Linton (1-3, 5.60)

Tickets: About 5,000 remain

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