DETROIT -- He retired 15 hitters in a row, struck out seven in the first five innings, took a three-hitter into the eighth, and became the American League's first three-game winner.
Orioles right-hander Mike Mussina did all that in continuing his mastery of the Detroit Tigers yesterday, needing the bullpen for only four outs of a 3-1 win before 11,243 witnesses on a sunny, windy day at Tiger Stadium.
He allowed four hits, walked two and struck out seven in running his record to 3-0, his ERA to 1.74.
All of which suggests Mussina has made it all the way back from the shoulder injury that dogged him throughout the second half of 1993. Still, Mussina's harshest critic, himself, stopped short of saying that.
"No, I don't think so," Mussina said. "We're still building strength. That's what I have to work on, building arm strength. The more you pitch, the more arm strength you build."
Any weakness wasn't evident to the naked eye or the blinking red lights of the radar gun that showed a 93-mph reading on a fourth-inning strikeout pitch to Cecil Fielder, who had four fewer hits yesterday than the previous day.
It was evident to Mussina, who was pulled with two on and two out in the eighth after he walked Tony Phillips.
"Usually, when it gets close to the end, I start getting better," Mussina said. "My fastball is right where I want it and I start getting my breaking balls over better. Today, I started feeling tired in the seventh."
The aroma of the finish line that so often brings out the best in Mussina was replaced by fatigue, but who's complaining?
Alan Mills, owner of the league's most deceiving ERA (12.27), and Lee Smith were there to lend Mussina support when he needed it.
Mills was brought on to face the left-handed swinging Lou Whitaker, who is 0-for-9 lifetime against the hard-throwing right-hander. Whitaker worked a walk out of Mills to load the bases after Junior Felix and Phillips moved up a base on Mills' wild pitch.
But Mills then struck out Eric Davis on three pitches to leave the bases loaded. Taking the mound for the ninth, Smith struck out Fielder and retired Kirk Gibson on a grounder and Mickey Tettleton on a fly to left for his fourth save in as many tries.
Mussina also received a big boost from left fielder Brady Anderson, who led off the game with a homer to right, and lTC gunned down a run at the plate in the sixth on a play that featured a baseball rarity, a Cal Ripken misplay of a popup.
The wind and the sun conspired to cause Ripken to make an unsuccessful lunge at Davis' pop to shallow left. Anderson quickly scooped the ball and zipped a high, on-target throw to the plate. Trying to score from first on the play, Whitaker arrived ahead of the throw, but had nowhere to go. Chris Hoiles blocked the plate and pinned the tag on Whitaker.
"Awesome," Anderson said of Hoiles' block. "He made the play."
Mussina called it the play of the day.
"I was halfway to the dugout," Mussina said. "Usually, when Cal calls for a ball you are pretty sure he's going to catch it. It blew all the way out to Brady, Brady was paying enough attention, he threw it home and Chris blocked the plate. No question that was the biggest play."
It preserved a 3-1 lead the Orioles took in the fourth on consecutive two-out, run-scoring singles by Hoiles and Chris Sabo off Detroit starter Mike Moore, who allowed three runs in eight innings.
Mussina threw a season-high 111 pitches. In his three starts, he has faced Kansas City, Texas and Detroit. Combined they hit .155 against him.
Owner of a 39-16 career record that gives him the highest winning percentage in club history and the second highest among active major-league pitchers with at least 50 decisions (only Toronto's Juan Guzman's is higher), Mussina is 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA against Detroit.
"I think there is a lot of luck involved in that," he said of his success against the Tigers. "It's a very powerful, very dangerous lineup."
Mussina didn't need to be reminded of that, but Whitaker, the second hitter Mussina faced, did so anyway. He drilled a high breaking ball into the upper deck in right for his second home run. Mussina walked Fielder later in the first inning, then retired 15 hitters in a row.
During that stretch, six of the outs came on strikeouts, another half-dozen on grounders.
"I had a pretty good fastball today," Mussina said. "I didn't use my curveball too often. It was mostly sinkers away, fastballs away. . . . But it helps when you can throw something with spin on it.
"I'm not like Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson. I can't go out there knowing I always will have one thing working for me. If Randy Johnson's slider isn't working, he can get it done with just his fastball. I don't have any one thing I can fall back on. I have to have a lot of things working for me."
Mussina had enough working for him yesterday to send the Orioles into Texas with a 5-3 record.
Opponent: Texas Rangers
Site: The Ballpark in Arlington
TV/Radio: Channel 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Arthur Rhodes (0-1, 18.00) vs. Rangers' Rick Helling (0-0, 9.00)