Mussina drought ends, 5-1

Ace holds Mariners for 7, O's survive 8th for his 1st in weeks

Timlin has 1-2-3 ninth

Surhoff's 2nd hit aids 3-run seventh

May 26, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

As he watched silently from the mound, the bench and the tunnel leading to the Orioles' clubhouse, Mike Mussina saw vision after nightmarish vision pass before him last night. From absurd fielding, untimely hitting and improper base running to a ghastly reminder of what happened to him on the same mound two years before, Mussina witnessed the unbelievable become routine.

But despite a raft of stranded base runners, two unmade plays and a disturbing personal flashback, Mussina's seven strong innings and a seventh-inning revival from his offense were enough to give the Orioles a5-1 win over the Seattle Mariners before 34,764 at Camden Yards.

The win was Mussina's first since an April 29 138-pitch complete game against the Texas Rangers and completed the Orioles' three-game sweep of the Mariners. The Orioles held the Mariners to six runs during a series in which they doubled their win total for the month. Buddy Groom got the Orioles out of a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and embattled closer Mike Timlin had a 1-2-3 ninth to preserve the win.

Mussina (2-6) won because he allowed only five hits, no home runs and two walks while striking out a season-high nine. He escaped after seven innings because of an outburst in the bottom of the inning in which B.J. Surhoff capped his first two-hit game since May 7 and pinch hitter Jeff Conine drilled a pinch two-run double.

While Mussina waited for the breakout, nothing was more bothersome than Harold Baines' fourth-inning grounder off a splintered bat that raked the right side of Mariners starter Paul Abbott's face. On May 14, 1998, Sandy Alomar's line drive caught Mussina just above his right eye, resulting in dozens of stitches, a broken nose and a month on the disabled list. Abbott writhed on the mound for several minutes before being wheeled off the field and taken to University of Maryland Medical Center where he was X-rayed.

The Orioles repeatedly threatened Abbott but were only tied, 1-1, when he was whipped by the slender end of Baines' pinwheeling broken bat.

Twice they pushed runners to third base with one out and didn't score - once when Albert Belle and Baines struck out to end the first inning and again in the third when Surhoff, the slumping No. 3 hitter, popped out against a drawn infield and Belle lined out to the center-field warning track.

The first five innings brutalized Belle. Three times the cleanup hitter came to the plate with runners in scoring position and three times he failed to advance any.

Few things in the game are more predictable than Belle's second-half surges. But for now, his spot remains a place where rallies stall. Last night's first three at-bats dropped him to 8-for-41 (.195) with runners in scoring position and his slugging percentage ranks sixth among regulars.

Mike Hargrove has remained attached to the combination of Surhoff and Belle as Nos. 3-4 hitters despite Surhoff entering last night in a 14-for-100 funk and Belle hitting for average (.318 in his previous 22 games) but with little pop (two home runs in his last 71 at-bats).

Surhoff justified their patience with a first-inning flare and a seventh-inning line drive to give Mussina his first two-run lead since May 4.

The Orioles gave Mussina leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in nearly identical fashion, both times beginning with a Mike Bordick walk. In the third inning, Anderson's lined double down the right-field line moved him to third and Delino DeShields scored him with a grounder chopped off the plate.

Able to quantify his lacking offensive support - 3.07 runs per nine innings, third-worst in the American League - Mussina was then reminded of the less tangible element of defense.

On consecutive swings the Mariners exploited Belle's range in right field and DeShields' arm at second, creating a first-and-third jam with none out instead of what might have been a double-play opportunity.

Alex Rodriguez led off the third inning with a single into the right-center-field gap. Belle ranged for the ball but allowed it to roll beneath his backhand for what was scored a single and an error. The additional base became huge when John Olerud slammed a one-hop grounder that literally picked DeShields off the ground. But with Rodriguez breaking a little slowly from second base instead of first, DeShields tried to cut him down at third. His throw was high and Rodriguez slid in safely as Olerud reached.

Designated hitter Edgar Martinez followed with a sacrifice fly to score an unearned run and tie the game. It would be the last runner the Mariners would push to third base against Mussina.

While only one of their first eight hits led to a run, the Orioles took a 2-1 lead by parlaying another walk to Bordick into a fifth-inning run. This time Anderson singled him to third and DeShields scored him with a slow grounder to second.

One day a month from now, Mussina may reflect on last night's seventh inning as the end to his personal struggle. It was then that the Orioles scored three runs in an inning for only the third time this season with Mussina pitching.

Conine's pinch-hit two-run double off Jose Paniagua turned a 3-1 game into a more comfortable situation for Hargrove to remove Mussina after 109 pitches for Al Reyes.

A simple four-run lead again became complicated, however, when Reyes walked the bases loaded, bringing right-handed-hitting Mike Cameron to the plate as the tying run and left-hander Groom rather than right-handed setup man Mike Trombley from the bullpen.

Groom, currently the bullpen's most trusted figure, held the lead by getting Cameron to fly to right field on a full count.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Oakland Athletics

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Athletics' Mark Mulder (2-1, 3.83) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (1-1, 8.31)

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