Mike Mussina dropped back to earth from a higher baseball planet last night, landing with a thud.
Kevin Reimer's grand slam highlighted a six-run third inning for the Brewers, perhaps the most unlikely team to unload on Mussina. The six runs were twice as many as Mussina had allowed in his past four starts, all of them wins.
After the big splash, John Jaha led off the fourth inning with a bases-empty homer to left, and Mussina matched the earliest exit of his career. It was only the third time in 53 starts that he failed to pitch at least five innings.
"I gave up a touchdown pretty fast and we were in a hole early," Mussina said. "That's tough to come back from. Everybody thought I'd go into the seventh [inning] every time out -- and I thought it, too.
"I'm human. The game's very humbling. Just when you think you know what you're doing, that you've got a good grip, it lets you know that you don't."
The beneficiary of Milwaukee's power surge was Jamie Navarro (2-3), who allowed seven hits while logging his first complete game of the season. The Orioles' scoring came on home runs, a bases-empty shot by Chris Hoiles in the fifth and a two-run blast by Brady Anderson in the sixth.
It was only the sixth time this year that the Orioles hit more than one home run in a game -- the first time at Camden Yards. Under normal circumstances, considering his recent outings, that would have been enough support for Mussina. But this was hardly a normal game for the Brewers, who are tied with the Orioles for fewest home runs in the American League (24).
Mussina, who had won five straight and 12 of his past 13 decisions, took his 2.40 ERA against the lowest-scoring team in the major leagues. The Brewers had scored 140 runs, an average of 3.8, in their previous 37 games.
In addition, Mussina had two complete-game victories, both last year, in his only starts against the Brewers. What looked like a mismatch turned out to be exactly that -- but it hardly went according to form.
After breezing through the first inning, when he recorded his only two strikeouts, Mussina got a hint of things to come in the second. With two outs, B. J. Surhoff hit a high drive to right-center field that cleared the fence -- but Mark McLemore leaped over the barrier to make the catch.
It was the second time in two games that McLemore had saved a home run, having robbed Cleveland's Carlos Martinez the day before. But the Orioles' right fielder didn't have enough spring in his legs to stop Reimer an inning later.
The Brewers already had scored two runs on a bases-loaded single through the right side by Bill Spiers. The sharply hit bouncer eluded second baseman Harold Reynolds, who was unable to make a diving stop.
Pat Listach's one-out bunt hit, a ground-ball double down the left-field line by Joe Kmak and a walk to Darryl Hamilton loaded the bases before the single by Spiers. Mussina then re-loaded the bases by walking Greg Vaughn, which set the stage for Reimer.
Reimer, a left-handed batter, launched a high drive out of McLemore's reach and into the first row of the bleachers for his sixth home run, putting the Orioles in a 6-0 hole.
"He lost his composure, his command and his control a little bit in that inning," manager Johnny Oates said. "He had to make some pitches with the bases loaded that he didn't want to make.
"When you're in a situation like that [bases loaded], sometimes it's better to find a way to get out of it with only one or two runs. But when you're not scoring, you don't want to give up any runs.
"That's what Mike was trying to do, you could see it," Oates said. "He was trying to get the double play or the strikeout and get out of it without any runs. He just missed with a few pitches and it hurt him."
The pitch to Reimer was a changeup, the same pitch on which he had hit a comeback bouncer an inning before. "I was just trying to put the ball in play," Reimer said. "Mussina is so good, he keeps you off balance. To get a stretch of hits off him is 'D uncommon. You don't want to strike out in that situation, so I was just trying to put the ball in play, and it carried pretty good."
Jaha signaled Mussina's departure with his second homer, a long drive to left as the leadoff hitter in the fourth inning. Only once before in his career, in an 8-4 loss at Toronto on Aug. 10, 1992, has Mussina (5-2) allowed more runs in a game. The only other time he failed to record an out in the fourth inning was last July 22, when he left after giving up four runs in three innings.
"When I went out there [to change pitchers] Mike asked me what I thought about the touchdown," Oates said. "I told him I wished he hadn't waited another inning to give up the extra point.
"I also told him his first 52 [starts] were pretty good, so we'd give him this one and he can give us 52 more."
When the night was over, Mussina's ERA, eighth best in the league going into the game, had jumped by almost a run to 3.24 and the Orioles had their third loss in the past five games.
"When you put runs on the board against that guy [Mussina], you have to feel good," Milwaukee manager Phil Garner said. "That kid can pitch."
But last night it was Mussina's turn to be vincible, and the Brewers took advantage of the situation.
+ Brewers-Orioles scoring Brewers third: Jaha grounded out to shortstop Ripken. Listach singled to first. Kmak doubled down the left field line, Listach to third. Hamilton walked. Spiers singled to right, Listach and Kmak scored, Hamilton to third. Vaughn walked, Spiers to second. Reimer homered to right on 2-2 count, Hamilton, Spiers, Vaughn and Reimer scored. Yount lined out to right fielder McLemore. Surhoff grounded out to second baseman Reynolds. 6 runs, 4 hits, 0 errors, 0 left on. Brewers 6, Orioles 0.
Brewers fourth: Jaha homered to left on 0-0 count. Mills relieved Mussina. Listach struck out. Kmak flied out to center fielder Buford. Hamilton walked. Spiers grounded out to second baseman Reynolds. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 1 left on. Brewers 7,
Orioles fifth: Gomez popped out to shortstop Listach. Obando flied out to right fielder Hamilton. Hoiles homered to left on 1-1 count. Davis flied out to right fielder Hamilton. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 0 left on. Brewers 7, Orioles 1.
Orioles sixth: Buford walked. Anderson homered to center on 0-0 count, Buford and Anderson scored. Reynolds flied out to left fielder Reimer. McLemore singled to center. Ripken popped out to shortstop Listach. Gomez singled to left center, McLemore to third. Obando popped out to second baseman Spiers. 2 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Brewers 7, Orioles 3.
Brewers seventh: Hamilton singled to left center. Spiers grounded out to first baseman Davis, Hamilton to second. Vaughn singled to center, Hamilton scored. Pennington relieved Mills. Reimer fouled out to second baseman Reynolds. Vaughn stole second. Yount struck out. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Brewers 8, Orioles 3.
Brewers ninth: Kmak walked. Hamilton singled to left, Kmak to third. Kmak out advancing, catcher Hoiles to pitcher Pennington, Hamilton to second. Spiers struck out. Vaughn singled to left, Hamilton scored, Vaughn to second on throw home. Brunansky lined out to center fielder Buford. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Brewers 9, Orioles 3.