BOSTON -- The night belonged to the Toronto Blue Jays, who were in Detroit making some early playoff reservations. The Orioles still are very much a part of the American League East race, but they cannot stand too many more games like the one they lost to the Boston Red Sox last night.
They took some good shots at Roger Clemens, but the 6-5 defeat at Fenway Park cut two ways at a bad time.
The Blue Jays were busy running their winning streak to five games against the Tigers, so the Orioles dropped three games off the lead with 16 left. But the most discouraging numbers of the night could be found in the pitching line of right-hander Mike Mussina, who gave up six runs over 3 2/3 innings in his second straight shaky start.
Is he still hurting, as he was when he left his previous start early, or is he just struggling? Apparently, he's still suffering from back and shoulder soreness, which contributed heavily to last night's loss.
"I don't feel really good right now, no," Mussina said, "but that's no excuse for throwing bad pitches. When you get five runs off Roger Clemens, you've got to give your club a chance to win."
That may be true, but the revelation that Mussina still is sore severely limits the Orioles' prospects for winning the division title. It doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to see veteran Rick Sutcliffe coming back from a four-week layoff to make Mussina's next start.
Mussina (14-6) is one of the cornerstones of an Orioles rotation that will have to step up in a big way to keep the team in the race. The Orioles already are trying to get by without closer NTC Gregg Olson, so the club can ill afford to have its winningest starting pitcher drop out of the picture.
"If he's healthy, he'll go back out there," manager Johnny Oates said. "If he's not, he won't."
The Red Sox came back from another early deficit -- just as they did on Monday night -- and overcame another mediocre performance by Clemens to take the deciding game of the series.
Clemens gave up five runs over five innings, but earned his 11th victory on the backs of three relievers. Paul Quantrill, Tony Fossas and Greg Harris combined to throw three innings of one-hit relief to secure the win.
Once again, the Orioles came up on the short end of a battle of the bullpens, even though they got an outstanding 4 1/3 -inning relief appearance from right-hander Todd Frohwirth. There was a time when five runs for Mussina would have been automatic, but that was before he went down this summer with back and shoulder problems that have twice placed him on the disabled list.
"I'm not throwing the ball correctly," Mussina said. "When I throw correctly, my shoulder bites me and I try to throw differently. But when I do that, I don't know exactly where the ball is going."
Mussina actually is pitching with two different injuries -- tendinitis in his shoulder and recurring stiffness under his shoulder blade. Neither problem is thought to be serious, but neither is going to go away if he continues to pitch. He obviously is hoping to get through the rest of the season and then take an extended rest.
"They basically told me that there is no way I'm going to get completely rid of this until I can stop throwing completely," he said.
The Orioles couldn't have been looking forward to facing Clemens, but they couldn't have picked a better time to run into him.
This has been a very un-Rocket-like season. He came into the game with a 10-13 record and a 4.33 ERA -- certainly not the kind of numbers that have made him the most feared pitcher of his generation. It was not long before the Orioles found out that he is not the same pitcher who won 17 games or more in each of the past seven seasons.
Clemens gave up four runs in a rocky second inning that included a hit batsman and his first balk in more than five years. It also included a strange play in which first baseman Mo Vaughn fielded a grounder by Mike Pagliarulo and stood frozen in indecision until Pagliarulo had reached first to load the bases.
The Red Sox had scored a run off Mussina in the first inning on an RBI double by Tim Naehring, but the Orioles took a three-run lead in the second on a bases-loaded single by David Segui, an RBI double by Brady Anderson and a run-scoring ground out by Mark McLemore.
The second inning also featured several uncomfortable moments after Clemens hit catcher Chris Hoiles on the elbow with a pitch. Hoiles was understandably upset, considering the circumstances of the past few days and the past couple of years.
He had homered in each of the first two games of the series, which made him a predictable target for a purpose pitch, but he is particularly sensitive to that kind of thing after a Tim Leary scuffball broke his wrist last season. He glared at Clemens for a long moment before throwing his bat away and walking slowly to first base under the watchful eye of home-plate umpire Dave Phillips.
The Orioles got off to a big start for the third night in a row, but they had to know by last night that it would take more than an early offensive outburst to put the Red Sox away. They blew an early four-run lead in the series opener and squandered a two-run lead on Tuesday before coming back to win in a rout.
This night was no different. The Red Sox came right back in the bottom of the second inning to score two runs and put the Orioles bullpen on alert. Mussina gave up back-to-back singles to open the inning and didn't get out of trouble until Lonnie Smith took a carom off the Green Monster and threw out Scott Fletcher at second base to end the rally.
Mussina got right back in trouble in the third when he loaded the bases with a pair of two-out walks. He got out of the jam, but only after a nine-pitch duel with Boston outfielder Billy Hatcher that made it obvious he would not be going long on this night.