Mike Mussina has been up and down this season. The downs have inflated his ERA, but they also have helped him become the major leagues' first 12-game winner.
Three starts after the shortest outing of his career, Mussina pitched seven solid innings last night, striking out seven, giving up two earned runs and helping the Orioles hang on to a 4-3 victory before a sellout crowd of 47,353 at Oriole Park and before more offensive help by the name of Bobby Bonilla arrives.
"Getting knocked out in the first inning a couple of starts has been kind of good," Mussina said. "Things like that, a negative, can help anybody."
Mussina (12-5) has turned his negatives into positives -- wins. His ERA (4.45) is high but, surprising to some, he is the major league's winningest pitcher. The confident Mussina has been making adjustments and is not surprised.
"I think everybody else seems to be surprised," Mussina said. "I've made some improvements since May."
Mussina got them there. He has received an average of 6.1 runs in his past seven starts. Last night he received only four -- the Orioles were out-hit 9-5 -- three on homers by Rafael Palmeiro and Greg Zaun. A seventh-inning run came courtesy of heads-up base running by Jeff Manto.
Manto does not run well and his pulled hamstring has slowed him even more. But last night he seemed to be recovered. After reaching on a one-out walk, Manto advanced to third on Zaun's bloop single to right.
Then, seeing Mike Devereaux's errant relay throw, he ran through third base coach Steve Boros' stop sign and scored. "I was saying, 'No, no, no.' His instincts were a lot better than mine," Boros said. "Also, it's an indication of how well he's running."
Manto? Run well? No one should go that far, but the extra run was important. The bullpen almost blew the 4-2 lead.
The next inning, Mark Lee gave up a bases-empty homer to Frank Thomas. Lee was ahead 0-2 and inexplicably fed Thomas a belt-high fastball right down the middle. It was Thomas' league-leading 27th home run.
Lee gave up a single to Robin Ventura (three strikeouts) before Terry Clark came in and retired Devereaux on a hard liner to left and Ray Durham on a groundout to short.
Doug Jones picked up his 19th save.
Mussina got his seventh straight win in eight starts. He's still not satisfied.
"My ERA's pretty high, though," he said.
Mussina's ERA would be more normal for him (3.60) without his disastrous two-thirds of an inning July 13 against Kansas City and one inning June 18 in Detroit in which he gave up 12 earned runs.
But he seems to have turned things around.
"Mike had outstanding stuff," manager Phil Regan said. "He did exactly what we wanted him to do in seven innings.
Palmeiro's 21st homer, a two-run shot in the second, and Zaun's homer in the fifth staked the Orioles to a 3-0 lead.
Mussina got into some trouble in the sixth as a blister developed on his thumb. He stayed in the game, though.
Lance Johnson (4-for-5, two RBIs) led off with his third home run, over the right-field scoreboard.
"I just hoped he'd keep in it in the park the other three times," Mussina joked. He did. Johnson drove in another run in the seventh, hitting back-to-back doubles with Ozzie Guillen down the right-field line. Guillen advanced to third on a throwing error by Zaun and scored on Johnson's double.
"He made only two mistake pitches," Zaun said. "I think I put the wrong finger down. Both doubles were mistakes on my part."
Chicago trailed 3-2, but Tim Raines flied to left to end the inning.
Mussina then left with the blister but with his league-leading 12th victory in tow.
Asked to rate his performance, Mussina replied: "I won, we won, good enough."
Opponent: Chicago White Sox
Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: White Sox's Mike Bertotti (first 1995 start) vs. Orioles' Rick Krivda (0-0, 3.18)
# Tickets: 170 remain