Mussina turns O's to zeros, wins, 7-0

Yankee strikes out 13, limits ex-mates to 3 hits in domination

September 29, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - There have been times this season when the Orioles have suffered from pitching performances so dominant they bruised confidences for days, even weeks. One of them came on Hideo Nomo's no-hitter in the second game of the season. Another may have found them last night when a familiar face smothered them at Yankee Stadium.

Pitching at his most precise, Mike Mussina contrasted a troubled outing by Orioles starter Jason Johnson with a complete-game three-hitter in the New York Yankees' 7-0 win. The best news for the impressionable Orioles is they have only seven more days for the memory to linger.

Mussina struck out 13 - seven in the first three innings - and walked none in a performance not too dissimiliar from his near-perfect game in Boston on Sept. 2.

First baseman Tino Martinez began a three-hit, eight-base night with a two-run triple in the first inning. Two innings later, center fielder Bernie Williams jacked the lead to 5-0 with his first home run since Sept. 1. All the runs came with two outs as Johnson hurt himself in the first inning by hitting consecutive hitters then allowing the third run on a wild pitch.

Shut out for the 12th time this season and the sixth time since Aug. 23, the Orioles never pushed a runner to second base while Mussina needed only three outfield putouts. The loss represented the 34th time this season the Orioles have been held to five hits or fewer.

"He was on a pace there the first couple innings to strike out everybody," manager Mike Hargrove said. "It was fairly obvious he had his good stuff tonight."

Mussina (16-11) steamrolled the Orioles by overpowering them with high fastballs when they looked for his signature knuckle-curve then freezing them with his assortment of breaking pitches when they set themselves for his electric fastball. The outcome was vintage Mussina. He didn't allow a base runner until rookie right fielder Larry Bigbie squeezed a ground single past second baseman Alfonso Soriano with one out in the fourth inning.

"He definitely showed his good stuff early," Bigbie said. "We knew he was on tonight."

Mussina wasted little effort against an impressionable lineup. His only pause came with one out in the second inning as he stepped behind the mound to allow the crowd to extend its standing ovation for Cal Ripken, who tipped his cap, gathered himself then grounded to third base.

Yankees fans stood for each of Ripken's at-bats. Ripken, trying to avoid deep counts against his former teammate, popped out on first-pitch swings in the fifth and seventh innings.

"I was a little surprised they were swinging after the first pitch every guy. I was just able to keep it out of their reach and get them to miss it," Mussina said.

Ripken's approach was sound. Mussina mixed 10 strikeouts among his first 19 outs; Ripken and first baseman Jeff Conine were the only ones to avoid being victimized.

"He's got 15 or 16 at-bats against me and I never struck the guy out one time. I know that. I know he's starting to really think about it because it's right around the corner," Mussina said.

The Orioles benefited from this kind of performance several times before Mussina's free-agent defection to the Orioles last November. It is the kind of stuff that brought him within one strike of a perfect game against the Red Sox three starts before, the kind of stuff that allowed him three times to carry a no-hitter into at least the eighth inning for the Orioles.

The win elevated Mussina's record to 11-4 since June 16 and 2-1 this season against his former teammates. The shutout was his third of the season and the 18th of his career. He also owns three of the Yankees' five complete games and 217 2/3 innings.

"I threw the ball pretty well last year, but I think I've thrown the ball a little bit better this year," Mussina said. "Circumstances are completely different pitching for a team that's winning or pitching for a team that's struggling, rebuilding and trying to find an identity."

If Mussina rediscovered something last night, the win also cost the American League East champions. Left fielder Chuck Knoblauch hyperextended his left wrist attempting to make a diving catch of Jerry Hairston's sixth-inning sinking line drive.

With less than two weeks remaining before the Division Series, the Yankees are already missing right fielder Paul O'Neill with a hamstring pull.

Johnson (10-12) continued a late-season fade marked by eroding control. Johnson is 0-6 in his last eight starts and has won on the road only once since July 1.

Though last night's most serious crime may have been being paired against Mussina for a third time this season, Johnson permitted four runs to reach base without a hit. Hargrove pulled the plug on him in the seventh inning after Derek Jeter's double, consecutive walks of Williams and Martinez, and Shane Spencer's looping single to right field made a 7-0 game.

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