Mussina rebounds

O's fall, 2-1

Ace drops to 1-6 despite strong 8 innings in Texas

Has no-hitter until 4th

6 losses 1 less than all '99 for `Moose'

May 21, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Texas - After expending 10 starts and a season's supply of patience, Mike Mussina was left to wonder again last night if the 2000 season is to be a riddle without an answer.

Mussina (1-6) reached a career low last night in a mesmerizing 2-1 loss to the Texas Rangers before 48,167 at The Ballpark in Arlington. He threw the Orioles' first pitch and their last but was outdueled by the Rangers' three-man tag team that ended with Mike Wetteland's ninth save and the Orioles' 14th loss in 16 games.

Having lost while pitching poorly, Mussina suffered his second consecutive loss while pitching well. The Orioles lost their third consecutive game by one run and haven't won by more than a run since April 25, a span of 21 games. The starting rotation has one win since April 29. In their previous two games, scoring seven runs wasn't enough. Last night, surrendering two was too many.

Mussina gave the Orioles what they had been looking for - eight tight innings with only six hits and no walks allowed - only to be outdueled by Rangers starter Esteban Loaiza (2-2). The loss was Mussina's sixth in 10 starts, leaving him with only one fewer than he absorbed in last season's 31 starts.

For now, Mussina and his fellow starters must isolate their performance from the support they receive from a slumping offense and a grab-bag bullpen. Last night marked the seventh time Mussina has received three runs or less. The Orioles have been held to three runs or fewer in only five of their other 31 games. The Orioles have averaged 6.1 runs in games Mussina does not start compared to 2.7 runs when he does appear.

Mussina, admittedly "confused" after a May 9 12-hit pounding in Toronto, had implied a turnaround in last Sunday's start against the Boston Red Sox when he allowed three runs in seven innings of what became his third consecutive loss. Hargrove pulled Mussina after 111 pitches and immediately witnessed a seven-run breakdown in the eighth inning that distorted a 10-1 game.

Suggestions by pitching coach Sammy Ellis and Home Team Sports broadcaster Mike Flanagan that Mussina was overthrowing his fastball found a receptive audience.

Flanagan noted that the Orioles' ace was hitting the outside corner of the plate on only two of every 10 pitches. "Usually, it's seven out of every 10, and his misses never hurt," said Flanagan.

Against the Red Sox, who completed a four-game sweep at Camden Yards that day, Mussina struck out four and allowed fewer hits than innings for only thethird time in nine starts. He surrendered three runs on a flared double to shallow center field, a first-row, opposite-field home run, and another bases-empty shot into the Orioles' bullpen. It was good enough to be called progress if not a success.

Last night's test came against a team that entered hitting .341 with 135 runs in 17 games for the month. The Rangers' recent rush started almost immediately after Mussina earned his first win of the season with a138-pitch, 3-1 complete-game win.

Benefiting from an extra day's rest, Mussina carried over his dominant performance last night by facing the minimum nine hitters through three innings, striking out three and allowing only one ball out of the infield.

The Orioles were likewise stiffed by Rangers starter Esteban Loaiza. They managed only one hit through four innings before they eked out a run in the fourth on a leadoff double and two singles.

B.J. Surhoff began the rally with his third hit in 33 at-bats, a double that presented right fielder Albert Belle with a rare RBI opportunity. Belle responded with a single to center field. Third base coach Sam Perlozzo had Surhoff test Ruben Mateo's arm. Mateo passed as he threw a strike that catcher Ivan Rodriguez short-hopped, then blocked Surhoff off the plate for the inning's first out.

Mateo's laser throw looked to have ended the threat until Cal Ripken singled with two outs to score Belle from second base for a 1-0 lead.

Mussina's no-hit cruise ended in the bottom of the inning when Chad Curtis singled over second base.

With the Orioles stymied by Loaiza, the Rangers broke through against Mussina in the fifth when former teammate Rafael Palmeiro took a 2-2 fastball into the right field upper deck for a bases-empty home run.

The homer was the15th allowed by Mussina this year, only one fewer than he allowed all of last season.

Mussina did well to contain the inning. Consecutive one-out singles by Mateo and Mike Lamb created a first-and-third jam. However, Mussina induced a ground ball from Royce Clayton that became an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.

Doing much with a little, the Rangers took a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning. Right fielder Jason McDonald led off the inning with a double over the head of center fielder Brady Anderson and moved to third on Luis Alicea's single to right field. Curtis then flied out to Belle. Like Surhoff two innings before, McDonald challenged an outfielder's arm. Unlike Surhoff, McDonald ran past Belle's on-target throw.

Loaiza then continued to hammer the Orioles. Belle's double in the sixth inning and Jeff Conine's in the seventh brought nothing when Harold Baines popped to center to end the first threat and Charles Johnson and Mike Bordick struck out to end the seventh.

The pattern has now become a familiar one to the Orioles. Hurt by an inconsistent bullpen but also because of an offense that drags late, they have outscored opponents 162-159 through six innings then been routed 91-51 afterward. Mussina exited the seventh inning having thrown only 93 pitches. His wait continued for a couple big swings.

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