Sox rock Mussina, roll, 8-2

Ace yields 7 in 6 1/3 to stay winless as Eldred 2-hits O's

Drought longest since '97

Late flight doesn't help awaken bats

Sox rock

April 25, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO -- Mike Mussina's mystery month took another turn for the strange last night. A late check-in, another instance of vanishing offense and a brutal first two innings sentenced the Orioles' ace to an 8-2 loss to the surprising Chicago White Sox.

While they continue to wait for order to be restored in their bullpen, the Orioles have to be stunned by Mussina's absence of a win with one start remaining this month.

This time Mussina was beaten by previously winless White Sox starting pitcher Cal Eldred (1-0) and rookie catcher Josh Paul while his lineup wiped the sleep from its eyes. Eldred finished with a two-hit complete game and 11 strikeouts. Paul celebrated a three-run homer and a triple. Mussina referred to the "toughest stretch" of his career.

The Orioles entered the game with a .301 team average. However, because of a complicated charter flight from Oakland, they landed at Chicago's Midway Airport at about 5: 45 a.m. yesterday, three hours behind schedule. Mussina remembered stepping into his hotel room at "6-something."

Time of touchdown proved the stronger trend as the Orioles gave a tired-looking performance against Eldred, whose first three starts were remarkable only because his 8.78 ERA didn't include a loss. One night after managing four hits against a rookie left-hander, they only produced two behind Mussina.

This is strange, strange stuff within an otherwise strangely successful month.

Mussina carried a career April record of 22-8 and 3.56 ERA into the season. A year ago he produced every win for a tattered starting rotation until April 30 en route to a second-place finish in Cy Young Award balloting. This season the rest of the rotation is 6-0 while he scratches for his first win within the last installment of a three-year contract. No one, especially Mussina, has yet made the connection. However, Mussina admitted irritation before the start over his predicament.

The day began badly even before the Orioles checked into their downtown hotel. A tardy team charter that had transported the Toronto Blue Jays to Oakland prevented them from getting to bed until after 6 a.m. Manager Mike Hargrove had given Mussina the option of flying ahead of the team on Sunday but the ace maintained a long-standing refusal to do so.

"They asked me if wanted to. I don't believe too much in that," said Mussina. "The nine guys playing behind me are going to get in at 6 in the morning. I don't see why if they're going to be tired why I shouldn't be in the same position. They've got to play; I've got to play. That's the way it goes."

Hargrove insisted, "I'm not going to offer that excuse. I think we gave our best effort." But upon further reflection, he conceded the late arrival offered an additional obstacle.

Asked whether the team's late arrival may have factored in the performance, Mussina said, "Sure it did. Add to the fact that Eldred was throwing the way he was throwing and it made it tough for us. We didn't hit very much. I didn't do it pitching-wise. Put the two together and it's an 8-2 loss."

Eldred had survived only 13 1/3 innings while allowing 27 base runners and a .308 average in his three starts. However, the Orioles mostly flailed after taking a 1-0 lead before their first out. Following Eldred's leadoff walk to Brady Anderson, second baseman Delino DeShields doubled to the right-center-field wall to score Anderson. DeShields was caught stealing with Albert Belle hitting and the Orioles couldn't place another runner until Charles Johnson's leadoff home run in the sixth.

Mussina (0-2) has now gone five consecutive starts without a win for the first time since September 1997. He was burned by two home runs, the sixth and seventh he has allowed this season, including Paul's first major-league home run, a three-run shot to spice a four-run second.

Paul tripled and scored in the seventh inning to force a 6-2 game. Mussina lasted only three hitters past Paul as Frank Thomas chased him with an RBI single that created a five-run lead.

By then, the Orioles were well on their way to extending their curious run of offensive brownouts behind Mussina. In his five starts, the Orioles have averaged 2.6 runs. The tendency has not been lost upon Mussina, yet to experience the other starters' benefit of pitching from ahead.

By surrendering seven earned runs in 6 1/3 innings, Mussina saw his ERA sky from 3.41 to 4.50.

Before he could clear his head and determine which pitches were working for him, Mussina found himself trailing 5-1.

Jose Valentin slugged his first home run with the White Sox to tie the game in the bottom of the first inning. Chris Singleton then began the four-run second with a bunt single toward third. A rare defensive lapse by shortstop Mike Bordick worsened the jam. Rather than take the out at first on Carlos Lee's grounder, Bordick wheeled on Singleton, who had strayed beyond second base. Bordick tried to take the play himself rather than flip to DeShields but his dive missed Singleton.

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