Mussina gets long look at 1-4

Blue Jays pound ace for 4 home runs in 6-4 Orioles loss

1-6 skid drops O's to .500

Mussina: 'I don't know what to do'

May 10, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- Two things never seen before transpired last night inside SkyDome: Cal Ripken as designated hitter and Mike Mussina as a 1-4 pitcher. And for the first time since April 14, the Orioles are a .500 team.

From Salisbury to Dundalk to Hagerstown, last night's troublesome 6-4 loss before 15,177 at SkyDome must sprout the question unasked for most of the last 10 years: What is wrong with Moose?

Mussina, the Orioles' stopper and last year virtually immune to long-distance damage, once again looked vulnerable. He walked no one but for a second straight game was very hittable inside the strike zone, surrendering four home runs for only the fourth time in his career.

"I wasn't even behind that many guys. I didn't walk anybody. I was hardly in a three-ball count," Mussina said. "I don't know. Maybe I should start walking more people. I don't know what to do."

Blue Jays starter David Wells (6-1) contained the Orioles on four runs and nine hits for eight innings then turned the game over to Billy Koch, who converted his second save in as many nights. The Orioles challenged him but were undone by three double-play grounders and a second straight game without a home run. The Blue Jays have slammed six in 11 innings off Orioles starters.

Staring at the clubhouse floor, Mussina had few answers. A pitcher who typically exudes confidence now gropes for a clue.

"I'm probably more confused now than I've ever been about pitching. I don't know why it's happening like this. It seems like I haven't gotten away with anything the whole year. If I make a mistake, they're all over it. I'm making a lot of mistakes and they're hitting everything I've got," said Mussina.

Durability isn't the problem.

Mussina logged 123 pitches, clearing 110 for the sixth time in eight starts and reclaiming the league innings lead.

Location in the zone might be.

The Blue Jays reached Mussina for 12 hits -- the third time he has surrendered at least 10 this season and only one shy of his career high set May 19, 1996. The loss also marked only the sixth time in 262 career starts Mussina has allowed 12 hits or more. These are crazy numbers from a pitcher who holds the third-highest winning percentage in major-league history among those with at least 200 decisions. They are made intriguing by the stalled negotiations over a contract extension.

Seven pitching coaches have walked the Orioles clubhouse the last seven seasons. Only one, current HTS broadcaster Mike Flanagan, remains. Mussina indicated he might now bend a familiar ear. "For some reason we've always been able to understand each other," he said.

Mussina's relationship with pitching coach Sammy Ellis isn't at issue. Finding someone familiar with his tendencies is.

"I don't care what's in bounds and out of bounds. It's my job and I've got to do everything I can do to be better," said Mussina. "We got four runs off David Wells. We've got to win when we get four runs off David Wells."

While Mussina was left to confront his negatives, Ripken went 1-for-4 with two RBIs in his first career appearance as a designated hitter. He grounded into a second-inning double play, the 327th of his career, to bring him within one of Hank Aaron for the all-time lead. Ripken was also one of three hitters to fail as the potential tying run in the last two innings.

The Blue Jays beat Mussina with an unearned second-inning run, three bases-empty home runs, including two by right fielder Raul Mondesi, and a two-run, seventh-inning shot by Carlos Delgado. Catcher Darrin Fletcher supplied his nightly damage against the Orioles with a leadoff home run in the sixth to create a 4-2 game.

The 16-16, fourth-place Orioles find themselves followed by the same frustrating tendencies that brought them down last season. They have lost 11 of their past 16, including four of five since beginning a 10-game stretch within the problematic AL East.

Last night's loss was the Orioles' 12th consecutive to the Blue Jays, and 13th straight at SkyDome.

One night after the Orioles racked up 14 hits, their old bearded compadre Wells was at his frustrating best, mixing a heavy stream of off-speed pitches with a 90-mph fastball. The Orioles sent the minimum 12 hitters against him in the first four innings, and scored twice on Ripken's single in the fifth to force a 2-2 tie. The Blue Jays accounted for all of Monday's runs with two home runs off Jason Johnson. Last night, they scored all their earned runs with four long swings off Mussina.

Mondesi pulled a misplaced fastball for a third-inning home run and returned two innings later to crush a lazy curve for an opposite-field shot good for a 3-2 lead. Whatever chance the Orioles had against Wells unraveled in the seventh when Mussina was taken into the right-field bleachers by Delgado's 11th home run in 16 games. Delgado's two-run blast left Mussina with 12 home runs allowed in 581/3 innings compared with his 16 in 2031/3 innings last season.

"If he pitches 200 innings, that comes out to 48 home runs. Obviously, that can't continue. I don't think it will," said Hargrove.

For Mussina, his choices have become painfully clear.

"I can either keep going or I can retire. Those are my options. I suppose I'll keep going."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays

Site: SkyDome, Toronto

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090AM)

Starters: O's Scott Erickson (0-0, 7.50) vs. Blue Jays' Lance Painter (0-0, 3.86)

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