Clark, O's hit 3rd in a row

1st baseman's homer a day helps keep Blue Jays away, 3-2

Mussina is denied again

Bullpen shakily saves 3rd over East leaders

July 03, 2000|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Mike Mussina wasn't born when John F. Kennedy said a rising tide raises all ships. No matter. Mussina probably wouldn't have believed it then, either.

The Orioles beat the Toronto Blue Jays for a third straight game at Camden Yards yesterday by employing seven strong innings from Mussina, a breathless middle relief job plus Will Clark's tie-breaking home run in the eighth inning, then a rare save for Alan Mills.

Rallying from a two-run first-inning deficit to win, 3-2, before 41,267, the Orioles elevated themselves to within 7 1/2 games of the division lead while beating an AL East contender for the fifth time in six games. Manager Mike Hargrove said it succinctly, "It was a good game for us."

It was an important game for Clark, who homered for a third consecutive day for only the second time in his 15-year career and no longer looks out of place in the middle of Hargrove's batting order. His towering shot to center field left Blue Jays reliever Paul Quantrill (0-3) with the loss.

"Will's power has picked up," Hargrove said. "He's a big-game hitter and I don't think it should surprise any of us what Will can do when he starts swinging the bat like he has lately. He's been patient, gotten good pitches to hit and it's paid off."

It was a good game for a bullpen that contributed two suspenseful but scoreless innings, including a nerveless two-man escape by Buddy Groom and Mike Trombley (4-2) after the Blue Jays reached deposed closer Mike Timlin for back-to-back flared hits to begin the eighth.

Hargrove's recently christened bullpen-by-committee then worked perfectly as Groom and Trombley kept the next three hitters from leaving the infield.

"That game was won before the ninth inning," said Mills, who gave up a long single to pinch hitter Todd Greene that just missed being a tying home run. "We didn't win because of me. We won because of what Buddy Groom and Trombley did in the eighth."

And it was a good game for Mussina, but not necessarily a satisfying one.

The Orioles ace, who signaled Hargrove that he'd had enough after seven innings and 121 pitches, dressed and left the clubhouse before entertaining questions, the third time he has done so this season. The previous times occurred after his record had tumbled to 1-5 for the only time in his career. Since, he has gone 4-2 with three no-decisions, none tougher to take than yesterday's.

The Blue Jays grabbed a 2-0 first-inning lead on Mussina's most obvious mistake - a cut fastball that hung over the middle of the plate for right fielder Raul Mondesi to hammer into the bleachers. Mondesi left Friday's game after twisting his ankle on the warning track but medicated himself with the rip at Mussina, whom he has reached for four hits and four RBIs in eight at-bats this season.

By itself, the home run would not have foiled Mussina's chance for a win. However, the Blue Jays tacked on an unearned run due to second baseman Delino DeShield's earlier error.

None of the Blue Jays' last four hits off Mussina was crushed. Only one more runner reached third base and Mussina prevented him from scoring in the fifth inning with a leaping stop on Grebeck.

Despite Brady Anderson's two-out RBI single in the third inning off Blue Jays hard-throwing starter Kelvim Escobar and back-to-back doubles by Albert Belle and B. J. Surhoff to pull the Orioles even in the sixth, it is the kind of thing that has tormented Mussina during the final season of his three-year, $20.45 million contract. While his ERA drops to 3.84 and his innings rise to the most in the American League, Mussina's 5-7 record continues to nag hm.

"He's the same pitcher I've seen for years," said pitching coach Sammy Ellis. "I know he's going to win because he's the kind of pitcher who gives himself and the team a chance to win just about every time out. I'd say he's given us a good chance in 13 of his 18 starts. That's gotten him five wins. That has to be a little tough for him."

This was the second time in less than a week Mussina had allowed one earned run in seven innings only to leave a game with no decision. The same thing happened Tuesday in Boston, when the Orioles broke out late for a 6-3, 10-inning win. Without saying a word, Mussina's body language frequently implies disgust. Four years ago, he won 19 games despite a 4.81 ERA.

Entering yesterday, the Orioles were hitting .206 with runners in scoring position during Mussina starts compared to .284 in all other games, according to records maintained by Elias Sports Bureau. During April, they hit only .128 (6-for-47) in those situations during Mussina's six starts.

"It's not like guys aren't trying to give him runs. We're not trying to score only two or three every time he goes out there," Clark said. "I thought we did a good job coming back today to tie the game then win it late. You'd like to score more for Moose because he's our ace and you want to see that guy have the kind of record he deserves. But sometimes things happen."

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