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

Shown 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 the second game.

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

Once again, Matt Riley escaped his first major league loss but his turbulent 3 2/3 innings did nothing to change the opinion that he arrived this month considerably ahead of his time.

Pitching on fumes, 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, Riley's line might have been more unsightly. As 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."

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.

Baseball's rarest species has become the No. 1 starter, especially so in the American League with its microscopic strike zone and claustrophobic stadiums.

The fraternity now includes only Pedro Martinez and Mussina. Miller derisively refers to critics who fail to include Mussina among the game's elite simply because of his preference for a five-pitch repertoire over pure power.

Miller, whose credentials as a pitching coach never have been questioned, cites Mussina's capacity for total recall, a trait shared with another artisan, Atlanta's Greg Maddux.

"I don't know. I guess when you put a `20' next to your name, it draws that much more attention," Miller said. "I don't know if you'd like a guy with one 20-win season or a guy with 15s, 16s and 18s next to his name."

A players strike, an inexperienced closer and a deep bruise have conspired to keep Mussina from 20 wins. Asked about it, he shrugs, then gives himself away.

"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."

Forgive Mussina his cutting sense of humor. 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 also 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 reward for a complete game. Once, a rain delay forced him from a two-hit shutout in which he received no decision.

In his seven losses, the Orioles scored a combined 22 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 also 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, Mussina finishes with a 3.50 ERA, matching his career figure. Without the day in Tampa, his ERA shrivels to 3.11, second best in the league.

Mussina began the season with a career .667 win percentage and bumped it up 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.

"I can live with that," said Mussina, who won his 136th game in his 254th career start. "It's unfortunate I missed a couple starts for reasons that didn't affect my arm and my health in that way.

"I don't have a bad arm. In that respect, I'm kind of lucky. I've been hit a couple times. That's enough. If I can get through a year and not have to go through that again, I can make a run."

The opening-game win featured a mix of pitcher and umpire as Mussina fully exploited Durwood Merrill's wide strike zone.

Wherever Charles Johnson put his glove, Mussina hit the spot. His first seven strikeouts and nine of his total of 10 were called.

The game marked the fourth time this season and the 20th time in his career that he has struck out 10 or more hitters.

Mussina received plenty of support against Clemens, 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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