Orioles' offense goes silent for Mussina again in 4-1 loss

Blue Jays, Castillo send hard-luck ace to 10th loss

July 24, 2000|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - Add Frank Castillo's name to the list of immortals who have beaten the Orioles this season and defied all logic when Mike Mussina pitches.

Castillo joins Jesus Sanchez, Ariel Prieto, Esteban Loaiza, Brian Rose and Ken Hill as pitchers who suddenly became impenetrable when other clubs had punched them full of holes. Pitchers who won at the expense of Mussina, the Orioles' hard-luck ace who can't apply the brakes to a season that's sped out of control.

The question no longer is when this will stop. With 10 losses in 16 decisions, Mussina must wonder if it ever will stop.

Mussina retired 13 of the last 15 batters he faced yesterday. He didn't issue a walk until two outs in the eighth inning. He turned in another complete game, his fourth to tie Toronto's David Wells for the American League lead. And he still lost, 4-1, to the Blue Jays before 26,276 at SkyDome.

The Orioles (43-54) took two of three on this brief road trip, but failed to get within nine games of .500 for the first time since July 4. They're 5-2-1 in their past eight series, with three games awaiting them against the New York Yankees at Camden Yards.

Mussina has one win in his past seven starts despite a 3.86 ERA that ranks among the league leaders. The Orioles are averaging 3.1 runs in his 22 starts, but that includes runs that score after he departs. They've scored three or fewer in 14 of his games.

"These things happen during a year. It just so happens it's been nearly every time that Moose has pitched. It's just one of those things," said manager Mike Hargrove. "I know it's got to be very frustrating for him but I don't think it's any more frustrating for him than it is for everybody else."

Nobody knows frustration like Mussina, whose 158 2/3 innings lead the American League.

"Apparently, somebody has to get the worst run support in the league, and this year it's going to be me," he said. "I'm going to be fifth in ERA and worst in run support and win eight games."

Mussina can become a free agent after this season, and many factors will be weighed when deciding whether to stay in Baltimore. The Orioles' offense wouldn't otherwise be a concern except for its uncanny knack for shutting down when he pitches.

Just an awful coincidence? "I hope so, yes," Mussina said. "When you play long enough, you figure this can't continue this way. I didn't think it could continue for 20-some games, but it has."

The first two batters doubled off Mussina, with Homer Bush driving an 0-2 pitch into right-center field, to give Toronto an early lead. Mussina retired eight of the next nine, including three consecutive strikeouts, before a two-out, opposite-field double by Carlos Delgado in the third scored Shannon Stewart and Tony Batista.

"When I'm pitching, if we go above two or three runs given up, it's pretty damaging," Mussina said. "It was a fly ball to left field [by Delgado] that just happened to be on the line. He didn't hit it that well. Sometimes, you can't defense things. I tried the best I could to get him to make an out."

Mussina didn't encounter much trouble from there. One-out singles by Darrin Fletcher and Marty Cordova in the fourth were nullified when Alex Gonzalez hit into a double play, beginning a stretch of 12 straight batters retired by Mussina until Batista took him deep with two outs in the eighth.

It was the 31st homer for Batista, tying him with Kelly Gruber and Ed Sprague for the most by a Blue Jays third baseman.

"The best ball hit all day was the home run," Mussina said. "For the most part, both starters pitched pretty well. They were able to get a hit when they needed it and we weren't."

Sentenced to a year at Triple-A Nashville in 1999, Castillo had won once in his first 11 starts before rattling off six consecutive victories. He was scratched from his last start with elbow tendinitis, giving him 14 days between outings, but held the Orioles to one run over 5 2/3 innings. Two bloop singles and a pitch count that had risen to 111 drove him from the game.

A walk to Harold Baines loaded the bases in the sixth inning and brought hope that Mussina would return to the mound with a lead, but Charles Johnson struck out for the third time, with Paul Quantrill blowing a fastball by him.

Castillo never got close to 90 mph yesterday, occasionally dipping into the low 60s. He still managed six strikeouts, twice getting Johnson and Brady Anderson.

"He threw very few fastballs. He mostly threw curveballs, changeups, sliders," Hargrove said. "He walked Harold on a 3-2 slider to force in a run and struck out C. J. on a 3-2 slider. He can't rely on his fastball. He's got to go out there and trick people. He went out there and hung pitches in the wrong spots where we couldn't get to him."

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