Hoiles, Mussina charge O's battery 2 HRs, ace's return to form top K.C., 8-3, close gap on Jays

THE BALTIMORE SUN

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- They won't find out until later today if their efforts came in time, but Mike Mussina made his pitch and Chris Hoiles took a couple more swings for All-Star consideration here last night.

After four straight subpar starts, two of them losses, Mussina returned to early-season form by allowing only four hits and one run in seven innings, his longest outing in more than a month. And he got all the help he needed from Hoiles, who crashed his 15th and 16th home runs of the year to power the Orioles to an 8-3 win over the Kansas City Royals.

With last night's victory, the Orioles won the series with the Royals, 2-1, and finished their seven-game road trip with a 4-3 record. It also enabled them to gain a game on the top two teams in the American League East.

With their 24th win in the past 33 games, the Orioles moved to within 3 1/2 games of the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays and 1 1/2 games of the second-place New York Yankees. The Orioles, who remain a game behind third-place Detroit, haven't been this close to first place since April 16, nine games into the season.

Mussina (10-4) downplayed his chances of being named to the All-Star team today, but Hoiles expressed some hope. "Is that still a possibility?" Mussina said when asked about his All-Star feelings. "After my last outing, I kind of set my mind that wasn't going to happen. If I go, I'll be surprised. There are a lot of guys who deserve it."

Hoiles was asked if he was hoping Toronto manager Cito Gaston (who will make the final picks today, along with league president Bobby Brown) checked the box scores before making a decision. "That would be nice, wouldn't it?" he said.

"If they want me, I'll be there," said Hoiles. "But if I don't make it, I'm not going to be disappointed."

In his previous four outings, Mussina had allowed 32 hits and 23 earned runs in 18 innings (11.50 ERA). In between, he missed a start because of a mild case of biceps tendinitis.

When he gave up eight hits and seven runs in 3 2/3 innings in his last start against the Chicago White Sox on Friday, it revived questions about his health. Mussina said he was fine physically, but until he proved otherwise, he couldn't remove all doubt.

Last night, Mussina went a long way toward doing just that. Whether it was enough to wage a final-hour campaign for an All-Star berth won't be known until 6 p.m. But it was enough to satisfy manager Johnny Oates, and himself, at least for the time being.

"It's a relief to get a positive outcome," admitted Mussina. "And it's been awhile since I felt that good.

"I wondered after feeling good the last time [despite a 12-1 loss in Chicago] if it would be there again -- and obviously it was," said the 24-year-old right-hander.

Added Oates: "I felt Mike was healthy, but you have to feel a little better knowing that's his last start before the All-Star break and he's got that No. 10 [win]."

Until a few weeks ago, Mussina had been considered the leading candidate to start for the American League on Tuesday night at Camden Yards. But his recent shaky outings put not only that possibility, but also a berth on the team, in jeopardy.

But last night, he looked like the Mussina of old.

Three times he faced situations with a runner on third base and less than two outs -- and he ended the first two threats with strikeouts.

"That was the old Mike," said Hoiles. "It's good to see him get back to his winning ways. They were behind his fastball and ahead of his off-speed stuff."

Mussina lost his bid to become the major-league leader in shutouts (he and teammate Fernando Valenzuela are among 14 with two each) in the sixth inning. Kevin McReynolds led off with a double and scored on fly balls by Wally Joyner and Mike Macfarlane.

By that time the Orioles had given Mussina plenty of operating room, although it took them four innings to break through against Hipolito Pichardo. The Royals right-hander allowed only one hit, a single by Leo Gomez that broke an 0-for-29 streak, in the first three innings.

In the fourth, Harold Baines lined a two-out single to right and stopped at third when Cal Ripken doubled into the left-field corner. Then, on a 2-and-1 pitch, Hoiles lofted a drive that landed on the hill behind the center-field fence, 417 feet away.

"That's the first time I swung a bat with my name on it," Hoiles revealed. "I've been using a couple of Harold Baines' bats for the last two months. I broke one in Chicago Sunday and the other one on my first at-bat tonight [last night], so I had to go back to my own."

The Orioles added single runs in the fifth, on a walk to Harold Reynolds, a passed ball and a double by McLemore, and the sixth, when Hoiles hit his second home run of the game. It was the third multi-homer game of the season for Hoiles, who is a candidate for the third catching spot on the American League squad.

Mussina threw 118 pitches (79 strikes), striking out five and walking only one. He turned the 6-1 lead over to Todd Frohwirth in the eighth inning, when Wally Joyner's eighth homer of the year, a two-out, two-run blast into the right-center-field waterfalls, made it 6-3.

But the Orioles came right back with a counter, scoring twice in the ninth on singles by Reynolds and McLemore after two steals by Jeffrey Hammonds.

Oates said he was encouraged by the road trip, and the Orioles' approach to the entire closing stretch before the All-Star break.

"I feel good about the attitude of the whole club. This has been a tough 16-day stretch -- and we've still got four more to go," said Oates.

Orioles-Royals scoring

Orioles fourth: McLemore grounded to third baseman Gaetti. Devereaux grounded to third baseman Gaetti. Baines singled to right. Ripken doubled to left, Baines to third. Hoiles homered to center on 2-1 count, Baines, Ripken and Hoiles scored. Segui grounded to second baseman Lind. 3 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 0 left on. Orioles 3, Royals 0.

Orioles fifth: Hammonds fouled to first baseman Joyner. Gomez popped to shortstop Gagne. Reynolds walked. On Macfarlane's passed ball, Reynolds to second. McLemore doubled to left, Reynolds scored. Devereaux flied to center fielder Jose. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 1 left on. Orioles 4, Royals 0.

Orioles sixth: Baines grounded to third baseman Gaetti. Ripken grounded to shortstop Gagne. Hoiles homered to center on 1-0 count. Segui lined to second baseman Lind. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 0 left on. Orioles 5, Royals 0.

Royals sixth: McReynolds doubled to center. Joyner flied to center fielder Devereaux, McReynolds to third. Macfarlane hit sacrifice fly to right fielder McLemore, McReynolds scored. Gwynn lined to shortstop Ripken. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 0 left on. Orioles 5, Royals 1.

Orioles eighth: McLemore singled to left. On Brewer's balk, McLemore to second. Devereaux walked, McLemore stole third. Baines grounded into double play, second baseman Lind to shortstop Gagne to first baseman Joyner, McLemore scored, Devereaux forced at second. Ripken lined to third baseman Gaetti. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 0 left on. Orioles 6, Royals 1.

Royals eighth: Frohwirth pitching. Lind singled to center. Jose flied to left fielder Hammonds. McReynolds grounded into fielder's choice, third baseman Gomez to second baseman Reynolds, Lind forced at second. Joyner homered to right-center on 1-1 count, McReynolds and Joyner scored. Macfarlane struck out. 2 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, 0 left on. Orioles 6, Royals 3.

Orioles ninth: Sampen pitching. Hoiles flied to center fielder Jose. Segui singled to center. Hammonds grounded into fielder's choice, shortstop Gagne to second baseman Lind, Segui forced at second. Hammonds stole second. Gomez walked, Hammonds stole third. Reynolds singled to left, Hammonds scored, Gomez to second. McLemore singled to center, Gomez scored, Reynolds to second. Devereaux struck out. 2 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors, 2 left on. Orioles 8, Royals 3.

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Time: 7:35

White Sox starter: Jason Bere (3-3, 5.61)

Orioles starter: Rick Sutcliffe (8-3, 4.96)

TV: HTS

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)

Tickets: Scattered singles remain, not including 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.

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