Indians rock Mussina in opener

Yes, the Orioles were roofed out of two games in Seattle and rained out of one in Baltimore. Yes, they played a day-night doubleheader and a twi-night doubleheader in three days' time.

And yes the setting of a strike date for Aug. 12 cast an unmistakable pall over Camden Yards yesterday.


But shouldn't a championship-caliber club overcome such irritants, someone asked the always-frank Mike Mussina.

"As far as I know, we're not a championship-caliber team yet," Mussina said. "Some people call us that based on how much money we've spent and who we put on the field, but we're not playing like one so I don't know how you can put those two words next to our team."


The Orioles, as stale as last week's doughnuts, were anything but championship-caliber in the opener of last night's doubleheader, losing, 7-2, to the Cleveland Indians.

Their first of 16 games leading up to the strike left them with little reason to pat themselves on the back.

Exceptions: The impressive major-league debut of young right-hander Armando Benitez, and the typical subtle brilliance of shortstop Cal Ripken, who had three hits and a smoother-than-peanut butter unassisted double play in his 1,995th consecutive start.

For the most part though, the Orioles' effort was worthy of C-Span. A real snoozer.

Veteran Indians right-hander Jack Morris had a hand in putting the Orioles' bats to sleep. Mixing forkballs, high fastballs and suspended-in-time changeups, Morris limited the Orioles to seven hits and two runs in 7 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out 10.

Meanwhile, Mussina capped his roughest month of the season with his first July loss, which says something about what sort of season he has put together.

In 6 1/3 innings, Mussina allowed six earned runs, nine hits and home runs to Sandy Alomar, with two on in the second, and Albert Belle, leading off the sixth.

Mussina (14-5) went 3-1 in five July starts, but had a 5.68 ERA.


Thanks to, in order, a shoulder flare-up, the All-Star break, a roof-out, and a rainout, Mussina has made his past four starts with more than the normal four days' rest.

"Physically, I feel fine," Mussina said. "I'm not in any pain or discomfort. My shoulder's not bothering me. My back's not bothering me. My groin's not bothering me."

What then, what?

"I'm speculating I haven't pitched enough lately," Mussina said.

If the weather and the roofs cooperate, Mussina will be out there every fifth day.

Orioles manager Johnny Oates isn't likely to wait that long to take another look at Benitez, who struck out three and allowed two hits in 2 2/3 innings.


"I was joking with him and told him we'll throw you out there against Albert Belle and see what you can do," Oates said. "I was only joking, but it ended up that way."

So it did. Benitez was up to the challenge.

After Jim Thome's two-run single with one out in the seventh gave the Indians a 7-1 lead, Oates called upon Benitez to face Belle and Eddie Murray.

Earlier, Belle had doubled and hit his 33rd home run, and seventh in nine games. It also was Belle's seventh home run in nine games against the Orioles.

Benitez struck out Belle on four pitches, the outfielder waving at a low-outside fastball for strike three. Murray popped to left.

"I might want to see him again," Oates said of Benitez, who won't necessarily be the man to go tomorrow when the Orioles call up a pitcher to make the start.


Benitez, a native of the Dominican Republic, had better command of his fastball and slider than he does of the English language.

"He came in and he wasn't intimidated," Oates said. "I'm not sure he understood a word I said, but who cares when you pitch like that?" Oates said. "I said make sure to stop. He said OK. I said make sure to check the runner at second. He said OK. I said, is it raining? He said OK."

Benitez pitched better than OK.

But by the time he took the mound, it was too late to make a difference.

Alomar's three-run home run put the Orioles in a hole they couldn't overcome.

The Orioles loaded the bases with one out in the second against Morris, but Dwight Smith popped to third and Mark McLemore crushed a foul ball caught in the corner by Belle as Morris escaped.


Ripken cut the lead to 3-1 in the third by singling home Rafael Palmeiro, who had doubled, but the Orioles would not score again until Jeffrey Hammonds doubled to score Brady Anderson in the seventh.

The Orioles loaded the bases against Morris in the eighth, bringing Mike Hargrove out of the dugout to make a pitching change.

Pinch hitter Chris Sabo fouled out and pinch hitter Tim Hulett struck out looking at an outside pitch.


Opponent: Toronto Blue Jays

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards


Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Blue Jays' Al Leiter (5-5, 4.56) vs. Orioles' Jamie Moyer (4-6, 4.84)

Tickets: Several hundred scattered singles remain, not including 183 bleacher and 275 standing-room tickets that go on sale when the gates open.


The second game of last night's Orioles-Indians doubleheader did not end in time to be included in this edition. A complete report can be found in later editions of The Sun and all editions of The Evening Sun. For a report on last night's game and other Orioles information, call Sundial at (410) 783-1800, ext. 5023 (in Anne Arundel County, call [410] 268-7736, ext. 5023).