MILWAUKEE -- Either Mike Mussina wasn't pitching well because he wasn't having any fun, or he wasn't having any fun because he wasn't pitching well. Chicken or the egg.
But he wasn't having fun and he wasn't pitching well, and after the Indians blasted him for eight runs and 11 hits July 26, Mussina sat down with some friends -- former teammate Mike Flanagan among them -- and got some things off his chest, things that had been bothering him.
He feels better now, and he's pitching better. Mussina no-hit the Brewers for five innings last night, and allowed four hits over eight innings on his way to his 13th victory. The Orioles blasted Ben McDonald in a 13-3 win that drew them to within four games of Chicago in the American League wild-card race. They've won six of the first eight games on this 13-game road trip.
Ex-Brewer B. J. Surhoff had four of the Orioles' 15 hits, including two homers, and Eddie Murray drove in three runs. But as manager Davey Johnson said, Mussina showed the way with his pitching; if the Orioles are going to seriously contend for the wild card, Mussina, David Wells and Scott Erickson will have to lead.
Mussina won't say exactly what bothered him, but it probably was a combination of things. He was struggling, there was conjecture all around baseball that his arm was hurt. The Orioles were losing, he was losing. "There was a lot of small soap operas going on here," he said, "and I was getting caught up in the soap operas rather than worrying about myself."
He got caught up, too, in throwing lots of fastballs. Too many fastballs. He'd get ahead of a hitter and start pounding fastballs, trying to finish off the batter, and he'd get ripped (the most notable example being the no-ball, two-strike fastball that Yankees short stop Derek Jeter hit for a homer in New York's sweep of the Orioles after the All-Star break).
But he talked to friends after the loss to the Indians and had lunch with Flanagan. He says all of that helped, and either way, Mussina was much more focused when he pitched against the Twins last week, allowing two earned runs in a complete-game victory. Last night against the Brewers, he was even better.
Mussina didn't have a good breaking ball, and he wound up throwing a lot of fastballs and changeups. But he mixed the pitches effectively, throwing breaking balls when hitters were looking for fastballs; it was the first time in awhile, he mused later, that he'd beaten up catcher Chris Hoiles with curves in the dirt, a sure sign he used his repertoire.
The Brewers got two balls out of the infield in the first five innings, and the possibility of throwing a no-hitter flashed through Mussina's mind. But leading off the bottom of the sixth, Milwaukee right fielder Matt Mieske pulled a double down the left-field line.
Mussina coasted from there, allowing a total of four hits, a walk, a run and striking out four. "I think I'm making a lot better decisions with my pitch selection," Mussina said. "That's been a problem for me most of the year."
Milwaukee manager Phil Garner said, "That's the best I've seen Mussina throw in two years."
Johnson said, "When you get pitching like that, it makes everything else look easy."
Or, if you pitch like McDonald did last night, everything looks hard.
Surhoff, booed in every at-bat by County Stadium fans, homered leading off the second and fourth innings, each on 85 mph fastballs. It was the first time he hit two homers in a game since May 3, when he hit two against the Brewers. Surhoff never had hit more than 13 in a season before he joined the Orioles, and he has 18 this year.
McDonald crumbled after Surhoff's second homer, walking Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray. Chris Hoiles muscled an inside fastball over third base, and Ripken scored the Orioles' second run of the inning.
First and second, none out, a bunt situation. Jeffrey Hammonds swung and fouled off the first pitch. Hammonds bunted the next pitch in front of the mound, and McDonald scrambled in and whirled and fired toward third. But this throw was wild and high and bounced to the tarp along the left-field wall. Murray scored, Hoiles stopped at third and Hammonds at second.
Alomar hit a chopper that skipped over the head of Fernando Vina, and the single scored both runners.
McDonald walked Brady Anderson, his last pitch flying to the backstop, and Brewers manager Phil Garner hustled out of the dugout to call in some relief. Too late -- the Orioles already led, 7-0.
Even if they were to lose the rest of the games in Milwaukee and three in Chicago, the Orioles have performed respectably on this trip. Maybe it's not a coincidence, Mussina said. Maybe it was good to get out of Camden Yards and get things together.
Opponent: Milwaukee Brewers
Site: County Stadium, Milwaukee
Time: 8: 05
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Scott Erickson (5-10, 5.35) vs. Brewers' Scott Karl (10-5, 4.76)
Pub Date: 8/07/96