Mike Mussina headed into the dugout after the second inning last night at Camden Yards, found a phone booth, shed his glasses, ripped off his shirt, adjusted his cape, and came out flying.
Or so it seemed anyway.
Mussina righted, no perfected, himself just in time for the Oakland bullpen to let the Orioles catch up and ultimately win, 8-6, to the delight of a Camden Yards crowd numbering 46,941.
The A's took a 6-3 lead after two innings, their four-run second highlighted by Stan Javier's third home run, a two-run shot into the right-field seats. They batted around against Mussina in the second.
Beginning with the last two outs of that inning, Mussina (4-1) set 18 hitters down in order. He was pulled with two on and two out in the eighth after his borderline full-count pitch to pinch hitter Mark McGwire drew a ball four call from home-plate umpire Chuck Meriwether.
"He didn't have good velocity, didn't have a real sharp breaking ball and they were all over his changeup," pitching coach Dick Bosman said of Mussina's first two innings. "So what do you do? You keep the ball down more, throw more sinking fastballs, change speeds more and change sides of the plate."
Mussina made the adjustment look as easy as Bosman made it sound.
"It shows me that I have learned a lot in the two years I've been here," Mussina said. "If that happened back in Double-A or Triple-A, I probably would have gone out, kept doing the same thing and been out in the third after giving up eight runs.
"I'd much rather go throw a three-hit shutout, but it's comforting to know I have something to go to if I need it. . . . That's one of the stranger wins I've had."
Both dugouts were impressed with Mussina's turnaround.
"He changed his style of pitching," Oakland manager Tony La Russa said. "He's a very smart pitcher, young or old. We didn't adjust with him. He deserves the credit. Even if we had adjusted, he still made good pitches."
It wasn't only Mussina's strong comeback that made the crowd restless when manager Johnny Oates took the ball from his starting pitcher. A crowd still angered by his pitching change from the previous day booed Oates for removing Mussina (120 pitches) in favor of Alan Mills, but Mills quickly turned the negative response into cheers by retiring pinch hitter Rickey Henderson on a fly to center fielder Brady Anderson.
Lee Smith pitched a scoreless ninth, becoming the quickest pitcher in major-league history to reach 10 saves, doing so in the Orioles' 18th game. The pitching of Mussina, Mills and Smith made Cal Ripken's game-winning hit stand up.
Ripken's two-run double down the left-field line after he fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches from reliever Billy Taylor pushed across two runs, capped a four-run sixth inning, and gave the Orioles a 7-6 lead.
"That's Cal, coming through in a big spot again," Mussina said. "He doesn't have any home runs, but if he hits .330 and keeps coming up with big hits like that, it won't matter if he doesn't have any home runs all year. I'll take that behind me any day."
The feeling is mutual.
"All of us are a little spoiled by Mr. Mussina," Ripken said. "When he goes out and gives up a few runs, we don't know how to react."
Oakland ace Steve Karsay took a 6-3 lead into the sixth and the Orioles cut it to 6-5 before putting a ball in play.
Karsay walked the first two batters and reliever John Briscoe walked three more, when La Russa replaced him with Taylor to face Ripken (3-for-5, three RBIs).
Ripken's second double of the night, a borderline fair/foul call that went the hitter's way, gave the Orioles a 7-6 lead that grew to 8-6 when Jeffrey Hammonds drove in a run with an infield hit the next inning.
Ripken fell behind 1-2, fouled off a curveball, fouled off a fastball in on the hands, took ball two, then ripped the double down the line.
"I couldn't tell," La Russa said of Ripken's double. "Somebody told me the TV replay showed it was foul. My answer is the way that whole game was played, one ball that may have been foul and cost us two runs, that didn't beat us. There were a lot of things leading up to that we could have done to avoid that situation."
Hammonds and Rafael Palmeiro didn't have to work as hard to drive in runs with bases-loaded walks.
Karsay was pulled after walking Lonnie Smith and Mark McLemore to open the inning. Briscoe then struck out Jack Voigt before walking Anderson to load the bases and Hammonds and Palmeiro to push across the fourth and fifth runs.
While the Orioles batted around against three Oakland pitchers, Mussina picked up a ball and headed for the tunnel underneath the Orioles dugout to play catch with Tim Hulett in order to stay loose.
This was a pitching matchup that figured to put the year of the hitter to a severe test.
Going into the game, Karsay ranked second in the league with a 1.17 ERA, Mussina fourth at 2.17, second in the league with a .190 opponents' batting average, sixth with 21 strikeouts.
The hitters passed the test until Mussina adjusted and the pitching duel would have to wait for another day.
Mussina got off to such a rough start, Mark Williamson was throwing in the bullpen in the second inning as Oakland led 6-3.
Oakland, second in the league in scoring, showed why in a hurry in the first inning.
Javier extended his career-best hitting streak to 17 games by hitting a double high off the wall in right. Mike Aldrete followed FTC with a double lower off the same wall, advancing Javier only to third.
Up next was Berroa, the American League's biggest hitting surprise this season. He took a .426 batting average into the game, second in the AL only to the Yankees' Paul O'Neill (.432).
Berroa singled both runs home for his 17th and 18th RBIs in his 48th at-bat. Coming into the season, Berroa had driven in nine runs in 189 major-league at-bats.
Oakland's 2-0 lead didn't survive the inning.
For the first time this season, the top two men in the Orioles' order reached base on hits in the first inning. They didn't stop there, greeting Karsay with four consecutive singles and a walk.
Palmeiro drove in the Orioles' first run with a single to right and Ripken followed with a game-tying, run-scoring single to center. Palmeiro scored the third run when A's second baseman Scott Hemond bobbled Smith's grounder for an error.
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
Time: 12:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Athletics' Bobby Witt (1-1, 7.66) vs. Orioles' Arthur Rhodes (0-3, 10.95)
Tickets: About 400 remain, not including 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.