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While the foundering Orioles were idle yesterday and possibly thinking about how the upcoming series against lowly Tampa Bay might be their last opportunity to restore the respectability they appeared to achieve when they started well under manager Dave Trembley, former Baltimore pitcher Mike Mussina may be looking at the end of his career. At the very least, he may have seen his last game as a starter for the Yankees.

Mussina lost his third blowout in a row, 16-0, to the Tigers in Detroit. In his last three starts, in which he has pitched 9 2/3 innings, Mussina (8-10) has given up 19 earned runs, 25 hits and five walks. Not surprisingly, New York has lost all three. With the Yanks in a scramble for the AL wild card, manager Joe Torre has to decide whether he wants to keep handing the ball to the 38-year-old Mussina. He was non-committal last night.

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For his part, Mussina said: "I can't believe in three starts that I forgot how to pitch after 17 years so I just hope (Torre) has confidence enough in me to keep sending me out there and let me figure this out. ... But at the same time, we've got to win ballgames and I'll understand if he thinks that we need to do something else."

*  In Houston, Astros manager Phil Garner discovered that owner Drayton McLane is a "what have you done for me lately" kinda guy. After Garner managed Houston to wild-card finishes in 2004 and '05 (going to the World Series two years ago) and came within a whisker of winning the NL Central last season, he was fired yesterday with the team 15 games under .500. Also dispatched was general manager Tim Purpura. Some offseason moves backfired on the Astros, such as the trade for pitcher Jason Jennings (out with elbow problems after winning just two games).  Although Garner had a 277-252 record with Houston, this figures to be only the second time since McLane bought the team 14 years ago that the Astros will finish with a losing record. And McLane doesn't have any patience for losing.

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