Another mound of trouble for Cito


PITTSBURGH -- That idiot Cito, why did he use Lee Smith?

The ninth inning of the All-Star Game, Orioles pitchers and the Toronto manager -- they just disagree.

Cito did the right thing last night, using Mike Mussina in the fifth, then Smith to protect a 7-5 run lead in the ninth.

Hello, Fred McGriff.

Goodbye, six-year winning streak.

McGriff's pinch-hit, two-run homer was the second allowed by Smith in the past three days. It tied the score, and Moises Alou's RBI double off Jason Bere in the 10th gave the NL its first All-Star victory since 1987.

Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken made a gorgeous relay throw on the decisive play, but Texas catcher Ivan Rodriguez didn't exactly make like Ray Fosse to Tony Gwynn's Pete Rose at home plate.

Ripken didn't see Rodriguez fail to block the plate, but he said: "I thought we could get him -- definitely. I thought we had a good shot."

Of course, none of it would have been possible without the stunning opposite-field home run by McGriff, who was named All-Star MVP.

Smith had converted 29 of 33 save opportunities this season. He had walked only six in 32 innings. But after a leadoff walk to Marquis Grissom, his night came crumbling down.

The next batter, Craig Biggio, fouled off three 0-2 pitches, then hit a sharp one-hopper to third baseman Scott Cooper to complete a gritty nine-pitch at-bat.

Cooper had trouble fielding the ball off the artificial turf. He got the force at second, but his hesitation enabled Biggio to beat out a potential double play.

"It wasn't a slow roller," Cooper said. "My first objective was to catch it. Once I caught it, I worried about making a throw."

"It was pretty hard," Smith acknowledged. "I thought we had a double play, but it sort of handcuffed Cooper a little bit. It was a bullet."

Which set the stage for McGriff.

On the NL bench, Smith's former St. Louis teammate, Ozzie Smith, recalled, "Lee's always had a tough time in Pittsburgh."

Smith once allowed a grand slam to Curtis Wilkerson at Three Rivers Stadium. But he quickly got ahead of McGriff 0-2 and actually had the Atlanta slugger worried.

"Lee Smith's got a pretty good arm," McGriff said. "On the second pitch, he threw a fastball right by me. I knew I had to be a little bit quicker."

McGriff took a ball, fouled off a strike, then connected on a Smith fastball that was down and away -- "a great pitch," Mussina said.

"I have no quarrels with that pitch," Smith said. "I made a good pitch to him. I guess I should have thrown him a heater down the middle."

Can't wait to hear the talk shows -- Cito knew Smith gave up the game-winning homer to Mark McGwire on Sunday, he knew Smith was tired, Cito this, Cito that, blah, blah, blah.

Some conspiracies just won't die.

A little more Mussina, a little less David Cone, and maybe we get a rout, eh? But nooooo, Cito had to start one former Toronto Blue Jay (Jimmy Key) and then turn to another (Cone).

No fair-minded fan could dispute either choice, but it took only three innings for the former Jays to put the AL behind 4-1.

Who, pray tell, was the only AL pitcher not to allow a run in the first six innings?

Mussina, of course.

As for the ninth, well, where was Duane Ward when you needed him?

Mussina got snubbed by Gaston in his home park last season, but at least he got to pitch in his home state. Heck, Cito probably was scared, knowing Mussina might again warm up on his own in the ninth -- even at the expense of his teammate Smith.

Indeed, when the press-box announcer said, "Mussina warming up in the American League bullpen," the only logical question was, "Whose idea?"

Toronto coach Gene Tenace joked that he was assigned to the bullpen to make sure Mussina got into the game, and the blessed event happened in the fifth, with the AL trailing, 4-1.

It was typical Mussina -- 17 pitches, 14 strikes, the only hit a weak single to left by Dante Bichette. Joe Carter couldn't reach the ball. Brady Anderson would have put in his hip pocket.

After the leadoff single, Mussina retired Gwynn, the National League's leading hitter, on a fly to left that Carter was gracious enough to catch.

He then struck out three-time MVP Barry Bonds on five pitches, to the delight of the Pittsburgh fans who loved seeing their former hero humiliated.

In the end, the only drama was whether Cito would use Smith to protect the two-run lead in the ninth. We all know he would have preferred the injured Ward.

In came Lee.

Out went the ball.

That idiot Cito, he did it again.

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