O's road woes long, winding

Sweep-ending loss to A's is team's 10th in past 11 away games

`We're better ... at home'

Mussina is hit hard, loses 1st since May 20

June 23, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

OAKLAND, CALIF. — Late Orioles game: Last night's game between the Orioles and Mariners in Seattle ended too late to be included in the edition. A complete report can be found in later editions ot on the Internet at http://www.sunspot.net

OAKLAND, Calif. - This is how far the Orioles have fallen away from Camden Yards: On the same night Cuban defector Ariel Prieto won his first major-league game in nearly three years, Mike Mussina offered his most vulnerable performance of the season. The combination accounted for Wednesday's 10-3 loss to complete a three-game sweep by the Oakland A's at Network Associates Coliseum.

Feeling helpless against a 12-hit onslaught, Mussina lasted only 4 2/3 innings. The Orioles led briefly but were quickly overrun by the streaking A's bats and perhaps their own fatigue from playing well enough to win but pitching poorly enough to lose.

"I tried every single thing I could," said Mussina, who lost for the first time since May 20. "I have more than one or two things most nights. They got a hit on everything I have; at least one, maybe more - fastballs, change-ups, cutters. There weren't any flares I could remember. If they got a ball they could drive, they drove it."

The Orioles' fifth straight loss was also their 10th in their past 11 road games and dropped them to 30-39, two games worse than last year's record at the same juncture. In their past five road losses, they have been outscored, 50-30.

"We're a better team at home right now," Mussina said. "It seems right when we start playing poorly we have to hop on a plane and go somewhere. We won six in a row at home, lost the last two, then jump on a plane and go somewhere. Now we've lost five in a row. I don't know."

Even the Orioles' ace couldn't swim against the tide.

Mussina began the night among the league's lowest 15 ERAs but soon discovered himself trapped by his team's ongoing road illness and an uncharacteristically flat assortment of pitches. The fourth-highest percentage road pitcher since 1900 has won just once in seven road starts this season and left Wednesday night's appearance with a road ERA (5.89) more than three runs higher than his number (2.88) at Camden Yards.

The big-swinging A's are currently the American League's irresistible force. They have scored 85 runs in their past eight games while batting better than .360. Nine of the first 20 A's to face Mussina hit safely. Mussina managed 14 outs while the A's raked him for 22 total bases.

"I felt good throwing the baseball. They felt a little better swinging the bats, I guess. Once in awhile, these kind of games happen to you," Mussina said. "During the course of a year, you're going to get one of these. There was nothing I could do, and you have to accept that sometimes and move on."

The Orioles remain an inexplicably streaky bunch. Through 69 games, they have amassed four winning streaks of at least three games, including three of at least five games, and suffered seven losing skids of at least three games, including three of at least five games.

The Orioles haven't won a road series since winning two of three from the A's on April 21-23. They have endured three four-game road losing streaks and two five-game road skids.

Many have been like their most recent series in Oakland. The Orioles led five times in three games, including an 8-1 bulge after three innings on Monday that tied for the second-largest lead lost in club history.

"This entire series we were probably our own worst enemy," said manager Mike Hargrove.

The series was tough for Hargrove to stomach. On Monday, the Orioles lost for the first time ever when scoring 12 runs. On Tuesday, Sidney Ponson dropped three leads. On Wednesday, Orioles pitching allowed an opposing player to hit for the cycle for the second time this season. The feat has been accomplished elsewhere only twice this season.

A's third baseman Eric Chavez doubled, singled and tripled off Mussina without an RBI in the first five innings, then finished the feat by homering to center field against Jose Mercedes in the seventh. Chicago White Sox shortstop Jose Valentin accomplished the feat on April 26 against the Orioles.

"They're a real hot club. They're at the top of their game. We happened to come into the game at the wrong time," Mussina said.

The 12 hits marked the seventh time in Mussina's career and second this season he has been hit so hard. On May 9, the Blue Jays reached him for 12 hits in seven innings, causing Mussina to classify his first eight starts as the most frustrating period of his career.

Wednesday night's outing came with little warning, however, as Mussina had allowed two runs or fewer in seven consecutive appearances while stringing together seven straight quality starts.

"If this is the only time it's going to happen to me all year, I can live with it," Mussina said.

Orioles tonight Opponent: Seattle Mariners Site: Safeco Field, Seattle Time: 10:05 TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM) Starters: Orioles' Scott Erickson (3-4, 6.88) vs. Mariners' Gil Meche (3-4, 3.54)

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