KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Don't pin this on the rookie managers. Donald Fehr removed Mike Mussina. Bud Selig yanked Kevin Appier.
So much for a classic duel.
So much for Appier's no-hitter.
This is what you get after a shortened spring training. It will be weeks before things return to normal, and of course, it's all Fehr's and Selig's fault.
Mussina left yesterday's season opener after throwing only 49 pitches in five innings, but that was nothing.
Appier departed with a no-hitter through 6 2/3 .
"It's one of the tragedies of the strike," Orioles pitching coach Mike Flanagan said. "You don't know how many times you're going to be in that position in your career."
The 24,170 fans at Kauffman Stadium booed Royals manager Bob Boone for lifting Appier, but if they weren't smart enough to stay home, they weren't smart enough to understand.
Boone had no choice. In fact, Mussina was stunned Appier lasted as long as he did. He actually second-guessed Boone for not removing his ace sooner.
It might sound crazy.
But Mussina probably was right.
Appier threw twice as many pitches (98) as Mussina, and he's working in a four-man rotation. How effective will he be on three days' rest Sunday against New York? How effective will he be come September?
"Honestly, I couldn't believe he was out there that long," Mussina said. "When I came out at 49 pitches, he was already up in the 70s. He went back out for another inning. And they sent him out the next inning after that. I was a little puzzled as to what the plan was.
"He had a no-hitter through five, a no-hitter through six, but he wasn't going to pitch nine. They're expecting him to come out Sunday and pitch again. With 144 games, it's a shorter season, but he's going to still have to come out and pitch a lot."
Which is why manager Phil Regan showed extra caution yesterday, as promised. Never mind that Mussina pitched five shutout innings. And never mind that the Orioles lost, 5-1, on a day they had as many errors (two) as hits.
Mussina worked only eight innings this spring, as opposed to the normal 30 to 35. His longest outing was 61 pitches, but that was in exhibition play. Mussina weighs only 185 pounds, and the past two seasons has worn down physically.
Why take a chance?
"You don't go out there trying to overextend yourself the first month of the season," Mussina said. "You have to prepare yourself to pitch effectively in August and September. Every extra inning you pitch early in the season takes away from you later."
Regan and Flanagan agreed, and they also knew that Mussina had faced an additional strain in spring training, working on three days' rest instead of his usual four.
After four innings, Regan asked Mussina how he felt. Mussina said he was fine, but Regan didn't waver.
"This is your last inning," he said.
And that was that.
"He hadn't gone five innings all spring," Regan said. "That was the limit we set for him. It's a long season. I didn't want him hurt the first day."
As Flanagan put it, "One side of you is saying, 'go get 'em, air it out, be competitive.' But the other side is saying, 'There's still 143 to go.' "
Mussina didn't argue -- if anything, he welcomed Regan's firm hand. He had a running feud with former manager Johnny Oates last season over pitch counts. Oates rarely wanted to remove him from games.
Last Sunday, Mussina was asked jokingly if he'd pitch nine innings in the opener, and he couldn't resist a jab at Oates.
"We have a new manager this year," he said.
And if Oates was still on the job yesterday?
"I completely believe it would have been different," Mussina said.
It's an age-old baseball conflict -- the short-term gain vs. the long-term goal. Boone wasn't the first manager to remove a pitcher with a no-hitter. Orioles assistant general manager Frank Robinson said he did the same thing when he was managing the San Francisco Giants.
"Bill Laskey was coming off the disabled list, and I told him he was only going six innings," Robinson recalled. "He had a no-hitter through six, and he wanted to go back out there. I said, 'See you later.' It's not an easy decision. But you've got to do what you think is right."
Boone did, and got booed.
Booed for his first pitching change as manager.
"You misunderstand the facts," Boone said. "They were saying, 'Boone.' They were excited to see me. I haven't been booed my entire career. I've just been, 'Booned.'"
But seriously. . . .
"I thought it was a pretty gutsy move," Boone said. "I was proud of myself."
Should he have acted sooner? Well, Appier threw only 11 1/3 innings in spring training, but he's more of a workhorse than Mussina. He was on pace for his fourth straight 200-inning season when the strike hit last August.
Boone noted that Appier threw 77 pitches in 90-degree heat in his final appearance in Florida. He was tempted to stay with him yesterday, but if nothing else, the Orioles made Appier work. He averaged 4.5 pitches per batter, compared with 2.7 for Mussina.
Boone finally summoned Rusty Meacham after Appier struck out Cal Ripken for the third time. Chris Hoiles was on deck with two outs, and he had flied to deep center in his previous at-bat. Boone didn't want Appier facing him again.
"It was a horrible thing to do," Boone said. "But I wasn't going to let him go nine innings."
What could Appier say?
"This is the situation," he said, shrugging. "The strike is obviously something we had to do. Today I didn't have a chance to finish the game or get a no-hitter. It's just the circumstances."
Just the legacy of the strike.
"This could have been a tremendous ballgame," Regan said. "It was still a good ballgame. But with Appier pitching a no-hitter, who knows what would have happened?"
K? Except maybe those two geniuses, Bud Selig and Donald Fehr.
The inning-by-inning pitch counts for yesterday's starters, the Royals' Kevin Appier and the Orioles' Mike Mussina.
Pitcher .. .. .. 1 .. 2 .. .3 .. .4 .. .5 .. 6 .. 7 .. Tot.
Kevin Appier ... 15 . 16 .. 14 .. 17 .. 15 . 12 . 9* . 98 .
Mike Mussina .... 9 . 14 .. 12 ... 7 ... 7 ..-- ..-- . 49 .
*-Removed after two hitters in the seventh inning.