`BP elbow,' 'pen hurt Mussina

2-run HR off Groom lifts Rays, 4-3, as ace exits after 7th

Pain tied to batting practice

At 2-6, `I've pitched well enough to win

June 01, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Mike Mussina pitched seven innings last night, making a variety of statements. His most encouraging was that he handed a lead to his bullpen. His most disturbing was, "I felt something."

The Orioles dropped the game, 4-3, to the woebegone Tampa Bay Devil Rays when left-handed reliever Buddy Groom surrendered a two-run, two-strike home run in the eighth inning to Fred McGriff, overturning Mussina's 3-2 lead and leaving the team with only its second loss in eight games.

Even without Mussina's complication, which resulted in him leaving after seven innings and 91 pitches, the game featured a bizarre ending when the umpiring crew overruled what would have been the final out to briefly give the Orioles new life. Mussina, meanwhile, was left to wonder about several "pops" in his right elbow he experienced during the start. The Orioles ace later described the sensation as "BP elbow," caused by his taking batting practice in preparation for this weekend's interleague play.

Manager Mike Hargrove didn't elaborate on Mussina's condition except to say the pitcher sought him out.

Mussina downplayed the situation, saying he had no intention of seeking an outside opinion, but conceded that the condition prevented him from pushing deeper into a game he controlled.

"I'm not going out there to pitch nine innings every single game. The game's not that way anymore. I'm not built that way," said Mussina. "I want to pitch in August and September. If those thoughts cross my mind when I'm out there and I don't believe in the guys coming behind me and I think I have to do everything myself, in the long run I'm going to end up hurting myself.

"They have a job to do. I have a job to do."

Mussina had to grind from the outset, though he retired 12 consecutive hitters at one stretch. Finally, he approached Hargrove to make him aware of the odd sensation in his elbow and the manager quickly had Groom warm.

Mussina said of the start, "That wasn't the easiest seven innings I've had. I think Buddy was a good choice at the time."

Mussina described the condition as somewhat similar to 1997 when he felt a sensation in the elbow after batting in a spring exhibition. That incident led to his missing an Opening Day start. "It's the same old thing," he said dismissively.

Last night's "same old thing" saw Mussina protecting a narrow lead without an offensive breakout. The Orioles have scored three runs in an inning only three times behind Mussina this season.

"I've probably pitched well enough to win seven games. I've got seven out of 12 quality starts," Mussina said precisely. "If you really take away my wins and losses, most of my numbers are identical to last year. One year I'm 7-2, the other I'm 2-6."

The loss came with a chaotic ending as the umpiring crew reversed an apparent game-ending out call on B.J. Surhoff's ground ball. With both teams off the field and the grounds crew pulling the bases from their anchors, crew chief John Shulock overruled first base umpire Paul Runge's call from across the diamond, saying McGriff had been pulled off the bag by the low throw, giving Surhoff first base and touching off a 10-minute argument that included Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild protesting the game.

Surhoff, who argued along with first base coach Eddie Murray, said Runge immediately seemed "unsure" about the call and was "receptive" to help from Shulock.

"I understand Hargrove didn't even ask to have the other umpires involved," said Rothschild. "And I know Shulock wants to get it right. [But] it's beyond my comprehension. I don't understand it. He let a team get off the field."

When play resumed, Roberto Hernandez allowed a ground single to catcher Charles Johnson to bring Surhoff within 90 feet of tying the game. But the Devil Rays' closer then rallied from a 3-1 count to strike out Brady Anderson to indisputably end the game.

Shulock refused questions from a pool reporter afterward but released a statement citing Major League Baseball's support for correcting a call. "Umpires must remember that the main objective is to have all decisions ultimately correct," the statement read.

Hargrove agreed. "The bottom line is, it's the umpires' jobs to make the rules fair and to get the calls right, and that's what he did," Hargrove said. "I don't blame the Devil Rays for being upset."

At least Mussina was able to stifle his frustration, breaking a two-game silence by addressing his performance.

Unfortunately, his offense didn't do the same as the Orioles again did little to reward his quality start. The loss was the Orioles' seventh when leading after seven innings, their eighth in a Mussina outing and their first in five games this season against the league's worst team. It also was the bullpen's 14th blown save.

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