O's flaws spoil Mussina gem, 4-1

`Little things' assist Indians in opener

ace allows 2 hits through 7

Opening Day

April 04, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Mike Mussina pitched brilliantly, Cal Ripken played productively and Albert Belle made the season's first impressive defensive play.

The Cleveland Indians, however, played like the Cleveland Indians, leaving their former manager Mike Hargrove and his Orioles on the wrong side of a 4-1 Opening Day loss before 46,902 at Camden Yards. Ultimately it was a day, as Hargrove put it, about "little things."

Big round numbers on the warehouse greeted Ripken and his pursuit of 3,000 hits. Brooks Robinson was among those who returned as part of the franchise's Team of the Century. Hargrove's introduction brought a standing ovation that still stayed with him minutes after the last pitch.

"It was good to hear cheers. It really was," Hargrove said. "I hope they're still cheering in September. It's nice to be cheered. It's nice to be welcomed."

Yet on a more painful level, "small things" combined to give the Indians a two-run eighth inning against Mussina and the Orioles a reprimand for squandered early chances against Cleveland's starting pitcher, Bartolo Colon, who earned a win for five innings of effectively wild work. Pitching for his depleted rotation on his sixth Opening Day assignment, Mussina was in command of everything except his inopportune offense.

"Any time you get a game pitched like Mike gave us today you want to take advantage of it," said Hargrove. "The only thing is, you hope the guy on the other side isn't doing the same thing -- and he was."

Bases-empty home runs by Travis Fryman and Kenny Lofton gave the Indians a 2-1 lead after six innings and three straight two-out swings put balls within inches of a leaping or diving Mike Bordick, Delino DeShields and Will Clark in the eighth.

The around-the-world tease brought the Indians a run and Mussina an ouster and a loss. The Orioles were issued a reminder about the importance of situational hitting, catching what they can get to and the perils of a claustrophobic park.

"They hit two home balls two rows deep in the smallest park in the American League. If I can do that 35 times a year, I'll take it," Mussina said. "Even though it shows I gave up four runs, I didn't feel like it was four runs."

Mussina walked no one, allowed five hits in 7 2/3 innings and outclassed Colon but also fell to 5-7 lifetime against the Indians. (The New York Yankees are the only other team he has a losing record against.) The anatomy of his start suggested a far better fate.

"It was a well-played game," said Mussina. "We just didn't come out on top."

The Orioles placed their leadoff hitter five times. They worked seven walks, produced 13 base runners and even attempted to play littleball. Nine of 21 hitters that faced Colon reached.

Not until he faced his 27th hitter did Mussina pitch from the stretch. He surrendered a one-out home run to Fryman in the third inning and a 368-foot opposite-field "Camden clout" to Lofton in the sixth, then watched Mike Trombley allow one of his leftover runners to score on Omar Vizquel's two-out single in the eighth. Hargrove tried to nurse Mussina through the eighth after his ace entered the inning with 98 pitches.

"I thought I was throwing as well in the eighth as I was in the third," Mussina said.

Two outs brought him to Fryman, who hit a "five-hopper" past Bordick's dive. Mussina allowed another single to Sandy Alomar off the top of DeShields' glove.

Mussina remained after a visit from pitching coach Sammy Ellis and Lofton answered with a single between Clark and the right-field line on a first-pitch curveball.

"He was as in control of that lineup as much as I think you can be," said Hargrove. "He took a two-hitter into the eighth inning. Against that lineup, that's pretty good. After watching the first two innings, I figured if we could get him a lead and add on to it we might have a chance."

Instead, the Orioles were frustrated early by a wobbly Colon and his airtight infield defense as the smallest player on the field, acrobatic shortstop Vizquel, became the most influential.

Colon threw as wildly as he did hard, walking six while striking out six with a fastball that occasionally reached triple digits and consistently hung around 96-98 mph. Stop if this sounds familiar: in the first two innings, the Orioles received five walks and six plate appearances with runners in scoring position while Colon labored through 40 pitches.

A pair of two-out walks brought nothing in the first inning when Colon struck out Harold Baines.

A promising second inning brought the Orioles a 1-0 lead, one of them another step closer to a personal milestone, but also a sense of frustration.

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