Mussina fearful of worst

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Something awful happened to the Orioles after all those glowing preseason reviews, all the anticipation of the indomitable rotation and the powerful lineup. Something really terrible.

They were forced to play games.

"It's going to be a long year," said Orioles ace Mike Mussina, who blew an early 4-0 lead on the way to a 6-5 loss to the California Angels at Anaheim Stadium last night, and then questioned the heart of the team.

The Orioles also suffered the indignity of having their former closer, Lee Smith, finish them off in the ninth inning. With runners on first and second in the ninth, Kevin Bass pinch-hit for Jeffrey Hammonds -- even though Bass was 2-for-19 lifetime against Smith -- and Bass hit into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play.

Afterward, Mussina (3-3) expressed frustration with himself for giving away the lead, and frustration with the team in general.

"We've kind of been going through the motions," Mussina said. "It's just a feeling, being in the game and being on the team. I'm probably as guilty as anybody out there. We're out there looking for somebody else to get it done."

The Orioles are 11-18, and have fallen seven games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East. Last year, the Orioles weren't seven games out of first until July 29.

"We've played almost 30 games," Mussina said. "How long is a bad stretch? Do you go from being in a bad stretch to being on a bad team? We're not very good right now."

Mussina was asked what it would take to turn the team around. "I think it's going to take 25 players and seven coaches who actually believe we're going to win," he said. "Not to walk on the field and hope we compete and hope we win.

"You can look great on paper. You can have the highest payroll in the league, but when you step on the field that doesn't matter. Everyone who plays against us believes they're going to beat us."

Mussina was uncharacteristically wild, walking four and giving up seven hits and six runs in 6 2/3 innings. It was he -- not Arthur Rhodes or Sid Fernandez -- who gave away the Orioles' early and large advantage.

The Orioles scored four runs in the top of the second inning, all with two outs. When the Orioles, who have been weak in the clutch this year, score four runs with two outs on a night Mussina is pitching, they win.

In most years, anyway. This season the Orioles have had an excruciating habit of doing just enough to lose. They haven't been blown out of many games; they just identify new and different ways of blowing games.

This was different, Mussina giving up a four-run lead, and especially in light of how well he seemed to be throwing in the first couple of innings. He struck out the first two hitters he faced, threw a scoreless second inning and retired Damion Easley to start the third.

Angels shortstop Gary DiSarcina hit a single up the middle, and Tony Phillips singled to end an 0-for-11 streak, and then Mussina did something he never does. Mussina, who had allowed only three walks before last night, walked center fielder Jim Edmonds, a .262 hitter, loading the bases and setting up the Angels' 3-4 hitters, Tim Salmon and Chili Davis.

Davis never got a chance to hit with runners on base, because Salmon cleared them. Mussina tried throwing a fastball inside, but left it too far over the plate. Boom. Salmon drove it far over the center-field wall, a grand slam.

"How many times have you seen me blow a three-run lead and a four-run lead?" Mussina asked, referring to his last two starts. "Never. I have no idea why it's happening. I can't keep the ball in the park, even when I pitch well."

Meanwhile, Angels starter Shawn Boskie (3-0) was keeping the Orioles quiet, retiring 16 of the final 18 batters he faced.

"A lot of guys who give up four early and are going against Mussina would pack in, figure the day was over," Angels manager Marcel Lachemann said of Boskie. "But he kept fighting, putting zeros up, and gave us a chance to get back in it."

The Angels broke the 4-4 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning. Spike Owen hammered a ball into the right-center-field gap, an easy double, and when center fielder Andy Van Slyke -- who had committed an error in the fifth inning -- took an odd route on the ball, Owen ended up on third with a triple.

Van Slyke's gaffe became meaningless, though, when Easley doubled to left, Owen trotting home.

Mussina escaped further damage that inning. But in the bottom of the seventh, he again couldn't get a pitch far enough inside, this to J. T. Snow, and Snow pulled the fastball down the line, just inside the foul pole and into the empty right-field seats for what proved to be the game-winner.

Snow, who the Angels would've dumped for close to nothing early last season, now has seven homers and 25 RBIs.

The Orioles drew to within a run, at 6-5, in the eighth when Harold Baines hit one of his trademark, opposite-field homers off reliever Troy Percival, his fifth homer of the season. This is the one thing the Orioles do well, hit the long ball -- they have 35 this year.

The Orioles' second-inning rally materialized out of almost nothing, but developed into something very big. Baines had singled to lead off the inning, but Chris Hoiles and Van Slyke flied out.

Jeff Manto singled sharply to center, however, and Bret Barberie's in field hit loaded the bases for Brady Anderson. The Orioles left fielder appeared to be locking in on Boskie's delivery early in the count. And when Boskie tried zipping a low fastball past him with the count 1-2, Anderson hit a two-run single through the middle.

Hammonds then doubled into the left-field corner, driving home two more runs, his first RBIs since April 30, when he hit a three-run homer against Minnesota.

Boskie hit Rafael Palmeiro in the leg with his next pitch, eliciting a brief glance to the mound by the Orioles first baseman. But Boskie closed out the inning by retiring Cal Ripken.

The victory was the Angels' 18th in May and moved them 2 1/2 games ahead of Seattle and three ahead of Oakland and Texas in the American League West.

"Being down a couple runs, we know we'll come back," Snow said of the Angels.

Boskie chimed in: "Somehow, some way, someone is going to step up."

Mussina only wishes the Orioles could say the same.

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Opponent: California Angels

Site: Anaheim (Calif.) Stadium

Time: 10:05

TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Orioles' Jamie Moyer (0-1, 4.76) vs. Angels' Mark Langston (3-0, 3.58)

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