NEW YORK — NEW YORK -- Assessing the Orioles in the sixth inning yesterday, manager Davey Johnson was brutally honest with himself. New York Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, supposedly sore-armed, had held the Orioles to one hit -- and that one hit, Johnson thought, should've been an error.
Bobby Bonilla's grounder in the second inning skipped off Yankees third baseman Wade Boggs, a play that was ruled a hit, but in Johnson's mind, Pettitte was no-hitting his boys.
The Orioles scored a few runs for respectability in the ninth inning, but could never fully recover from the funk that Pettitte induced in the Yankees' 4-3 victory.
The Orioles are back to 5 1/2 games out of first, and need to win today, with David Wells on the mound, to salvage a split of the four-game series.
The Orioles could not win yesterday without Brady Anderson, out with a sore shoulder, or with their ace Mike Mussina (10-5), who gave up nine hits and four runs in six innings. When he dominates, Mussina is typically understated afterward. When he pitches badly, as he did in late May and early June, Mussina can be ponderous.
But yesterday, Mussina walked into the clubhouse smiling and laughing with reporters, almost carefree; he felt as if he threw the ball effectively against the Yankees, was the victim of a couple of tough breaks, and Pettitte simply shut down the Orioles. No sense in agonizing over games like that.
"They're a good ballclub," Mussina said, shrugging his shoulders. "They don't get to be 10 or 15 games over .500 unless they play well."
More specifically, they don't get to be that far over .500 unless they have good pitching. Pettitte is among the best in the AL this year, 12 wins and a 3.98 ERA. But the Yankees really had no idea how he would do against the Orioles.
Two weeks ago today, a sore arm forced Pettitte to depart a start after five innings, and he needed eight days off before his next start; and even then, he was less than spectacular, allowing six hits and three walks over 5 1/3 innings in a loss to Minnesota. The feeling around Yankee Stadium after the Orioles won Friday night was that the O's had a good chance to win the final three games of the series; certainly Mussina would beat Pettitte.
It didn't happen that way. Pettitte struck out the first hitter of the game, Roberto Alomar, and never really had any serious trouble until there were two outs in the seventh inning. The Yankees had staked him to a 4-0 lead by then.
The left-hander's arm was tightening as the game wore on, so New York manager Joe Torre called on reliever Jeff Nelson for the start of the eighth. But Pettitte had restored the Yankees' advantage in this series.
"He had a good fastball," said Johnson, "mixed in a cutter. He just made better pitches. He kept the ball in on right-handers, pulled the string [translated: threw great changeups]. Everything."
Torre said afterward that Pettitte reminds him of Ron Guidry, another tough competitor from Louisiana.
"I hate coming out of a game," Pettitte said. "I felt like it was a situation where my elbow was getting a little stiff, so I needed to come out."
Mussina pitched six innings, on one of those days, he said, when you feel like you're pitching well and nothing is really going right. The Yankees had two runners on and nobody out in the fourth inning, and Tino Martinez hit a hard smash toward first baseman Rafael Palmeiro. The ball took a vicious bounce and skipped past Palmeiro's head, and Martinez wound up on second with an RBI double. Three batters later Gerald Williams doubled and the Yankees led 3-0.
The Yankees got a couple of runners on in the fifth inning, two outs, and Ruben Sierra at the plate. Mussina, who worked in one knuckleball ("It didn't work," he said later) and a few forkballs into his mix of pitches, threw a changeup down and away and Sierra reached out and poked a soft single into center. The moment Mussina saw where the ball would land, he turned around and looked into the third base stands, disgusted, as Yankees fans screamed.
The Orioles did make a belated charge in the ninth inning, also typical -- the Orioles have outscored their opponents 41-21 in the ninth this year. Bill and Cal Ripken beat out infield hits against Nelson, and after reliever Dale Polley struck out Palmeiro with a series of sliders, Yankees closer John Wetteland gave up a three-run homer to Bonilla.
Too little, too late. B. J. Surhoff grounded out, and as Wetteland did Thursday night, he struck out Mike Devereaux to end the game.
What is big for the Orioles now, Mussina said, is not that they need to make up ground, but that "we just need to play up to our capabilities."
What exactly the Orioles' capabilities are, in this strange season, remains to be seen.
Opponent: New York Yankees
Site: Yankee Stadium
Time: 1: 35
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' David Wells (4-7, 5.54) vs. Ramiro Mendoza (3-3, 6.21)
Pub Date: 6/30/96