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Skid lengthens as Mussina cut short

THE BALTIMORE SUN

DETROIT -- The easy conclusion would be that the Orioles have hit bottom, that losing all six games on a road trip through Cleveland and Detroit -- and playing poorly throughout -- is about as bad as it gets.

But that could be premature, because they must play again tonight, and they could very well add another defeat to their ever-expanding losing streak. They lost their seventh straight game yesterday, to Detroit, 10-8. The Tigers pounded ace Mike Mussina for six runs, and he faced just 10 hitters before being pulled, the shortest outing of his career.

The victory was the 2,158th in the career of Tigers skipper Sparky Anderson, who passed Bucky Harris and moved into third place all-time in that category, behind Connie Mack and John McGraw. "This means a lot because it is something nobody can take away from me," Anderson said afterward. "This makes me part of history."

The Orioles are making history, as well, joining the legions of teams who couldn't fulfill expectations. They are 19-28, and getting thumped regularly. Mussina and Kevin Brown each pitched twice on the trip, Ben McDonald once. The Big Three starters for the Orioles, and they lost each and every time.

Oddly, pitching coach Mike Flanagan came back to the dugout after watching Mussina warm up before the game, and told Orioles manager Phil Regan that Mussina was throwing some of his best stuff of the year. (Mussina later discounted that, saying he didn't put much stock in his warm-ups.)

No matter. He went out and had nothing. Scouts behind home plate clocked his fastball in the mid-80s, subpar for Mussina, and he couldn't control his fastball, breaking pitches, or his changeup. He recorded one out with his last 46 pitches.

He actually retired Detroit's first two hitters, Chad Curtis driving a fly to the center-field wall and Lou Whitaker popping out to catcher Chris Hoiles. Then the Tigers teed off.

Travis Fryman singled. Cecil Fielder walked. Bob Higginson walked, loading the bases for Juan Samuel.

On Friday night, Samuel hit a triple off Mark Lee, and on Saturday, he hit a two-run double against Alan Mills. Afterward, Regan lamented the fact that although everybody in organized baseball has known for years that Samuel is a fastball hitter, Lee and Mills allowed hits on fastballs.

Mussina threw Samuel a changeup -- and the first baseman ripped it to left-center field, a bases-clearing double. The Orioles, who had manufactured a run in the top of the first, trailed 3-1. There would be more.

Danny Bautista doubled home Samuel. John Flaherty grounded out to second to end the inning, and the Orioles battled back with two more in the second.

But after Chris Gomez singled to lead off the Detroit second, and Curtis rifled a two-run homer, Regan trudged to the mound to rescue Mussina from more damage.

Mussina sat in the cramped, blue-trimmed visiting clubhouse and watched the rest of the game on television. Watched the Tigers score three runs against Mike Oquist and take a 9-3 lead, watched the Orioles come back with a total of four runs in the fifth and sixth, watched the Tigers score a gift run, their 10th of the day, in the bottom of the sixth, when Kevin Bass dropped a fly ball with two outs.

A short day for Mussina, on the mound. A very long day for Mussina, in the clubhouse.

"It was bad," said Mussina, who has allowed 12 runs in his last 6 2/3 innings. "It was bad. In my 26 1/2 years of playing sports, the worst athletic performance of my life.

"I had a hard time throwing strikes with everything. I had a hard time. Then I sat in there and had time to think of anything I've ever done, playing golf or whatever, when I was so bad from the beginning."

Curtis' homer was the 15th allowed this year by Mussina, who's given up homers in his last 10 starts. Regan theorized that because of all the talk about how many homers Mussina's allowed, the right-hander simply tried to be too fine yesterday and fell behind hitters.

Mussina disagreed. "Hell, I would rather have given up homers than walking guys and getting behind every hitter," he said.

Mussina's not sure how he's going to get out of his slump; he's not happy with his mechanics, he said, and he's caught himself thinking through each pitch, rather than merely catching and throwing.

Somebody asked Mussina if this would be a big week for the Orioles. The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox coming to Baltimore, both of those teams struggling. A chance for the Orioles to end their losing streak, make up ground in the division race.

No, he said, it's gone beyond that. "We just can't look at the week and say this is a big week," he said. "We can't look at a series and say this is a big series. We have to look at each game, and at each inning.

"We've got to worry about one game, and that's tomorrow's game. After that, then we'll start worrying about Tuesday. That's what it comes down to."

Mussina and catcher Chris Hoiles agreed that this was the worst road trip they've had with the Orioles. "We'll get it going," said Hoiles, "it's just a matter of time. . . . It's just a matter of staying close enough so that when it happens, we can still catch somebody.

"As bad as we're playing, we really haven't lost any games [in the standings] at all."

What they are losing is games, and time.

HITS AND MISSES

On the field: Whether the Orioles are winning or not, whether they're playing well or not, designated hitter Harold Baines just keeps on hitting. He had three hits yesterday, including his first triple of the year.

In the dugout: Orioles manager Phil Regan continued to shuffle his lineup. Shortstop Cal Ripken was dropped from third to fifth, Baines hit cleanup, and Kevin Bass started over Jeffrey Hammonds in right field. This year, the Orioles have had three different leadoff hitters, five different hitters bat second, four different hitters bat cleanup, five different hitters bat fifth, eight different hitters bat sixth, eight different hitters bat seventh, 10 different hitters bat eighth, and seven different hitters bat ninth. "I'm trying to get some runs," said Regan. "I'm trying to get some production going."

In the clubhouse: "I don't think we can use the strike and spring training as an excuse anymore. We're almost into July." -- Regan, after the Orioles lost their seventh straight game yesterday.

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