Hot Mussina, O's cool off Seattle, 4-1 Ace allows two hits in 7 innings to win 5th in row, 16th overall; Tie W. Sox in loss column; Aggressive running helps spur 3-run 4th ZTC


The Orioles can score runs. They can hit homers. They're capable of good defense, and good pitching, nobody can doubt that.

In fact, the last lingering question about the Orioles, as they climb into postseason contention, is whether they can beat good teams. They've pummeled Milwaukee and Minnesota, but the Orioles haven't won a series against a team over .500 since the middle of May.

That may change, and soon. The Orioles beat Seattle, 4-1, in the first of a three-game series last night. Mike Mussina became only the third pitcher in the majors to win 16 games this year, following Atlanta's John Smoltz and New York's Andy Pettitte. Mussina gave up two hits in seven innings in winning his fifth straight start.

"Mike did a great job of mixing up his pitches," said Orioles manager Davey Johnson. "He got off his fastball and used his breaking ball and his changeup to set up his fastball, and that seemed to help him a lot."

Eddie Murray remains two homers away from 500, after hitting a single and drawing two walks against the Mariners. The Camden Yards crowd of 47,679 -- the sixth-largest in club history -- was poised to witness history. When Seattle starter Matt Wagner (3-4) walked Murray in his first plate appearance, fans booed lustily.

The Orioles failed to gain ground on the New York Yankees, who beat California and maintained a six-game lead in the American League East. But the Orioles (66-58) pulled to within 1 1/2 games of the Chicago White Sox (69-58) in the wild-card race, drawing to a tie in the loss column.

"It always stems from good pitching," Johnson said of the Orioles' surge. "When we have good pitching, the whole ballclub picks up. We've been playing hard for the last month, really grinding, and it got us back in the race."

Should the Orioles win tonight, they will be nine games over .500 for the first time since June 6. They've never been 10 games over .500 this season.

But they will reach 10 and go beyond should they continue to play as unselfishly as they did against the Mariners, a struggling and banged up team contending with the Orioles for the wild-card spot.

Seattle led 1-0 after 3 1/2 innings, scoring when Mark Whiten, a late replacement for Jay Buhner in the Mariners' lineup, lined a 413-foot homer into the right-field stands. Wagner allowed one hit over the first three innings, but the way the Orioles have compiled runs over the past three weeks, it figured they would rally sooner or later.

Sooner. Bobby Bonilla, batting left-handed against the right-handed Wagner, slammed a one-out double between center fielder Ken Griffey and left fielder Rich Amaral. B. J. Surhoff hit a short fly toward left, down the line, and Amaral ran and ran and, as he neared the ball, Amaral held up his glove as if he was going to catch the ball. Bonilla, seeing the ball was going to fall in, picked up speed and rounded third base.

Amaral may have had a chance to throw out Bonilla at the plate. But as he reached to pick up the fly on the bounce, Amaral looked up to see where Bonilla was -- and overran the ball. Bonilla scored standing, and Surhoff stopped at second. Tie game.

A consistent failing of the Orioles this year, even in good times, has been their inability to hit behind runners. They've often stranded runners who've reached second with none or one out.

Cal Ripken was next, and with each swing, it became more and more apparent he was trying to drive a pitch to right field. He hit a high foul down the line, fouled off another to the right side, and another. Wagner would throw a pitch and Ripken would move forward with his swing angled at about 45 degrees, attempting to push the ball to the right.

Wagner threw inside and Ripken stepped and, with his swing, he muscled a looper over second base, and Surhoff rambled home with the lead run. All and all, it was one of the better at-bats by an Oriole this season, a sign of the times.

As Ripken did, Murray worked the count. Three balls and two strikes. Wagner began his motion, Ripken broke from first -- a run-and-hit -- and Murray whistled a liner over second base. Ripken slid into third, barely ahead of a extraordinary throw by Whiten. If Ripken hadn't have been running, he would've stopped at second.

The aggressiveness paid off. Chris Hoiles, like Ripken trying to move the runners by pushing the ball to the right side, hit a slow roller to the left of Seattle second baseman Joey Cora. With no chance for a double play, no chance at throwing out Ripken at the plate, all Cora could do was flip to first. The Orioles led 3-1, the benefits of sound fundamentals and aggressiveness.

Mussina shut down Seattle through the middle innings. Seattle managed two hits against him in the third, including Whiten's homer, but those were the only two hits he allowed the entire game.

Mussina began to tire in the top of the seventh, walking two, but struck out Whiten and retired Amaral on a fielder's choice grounder. Mussina was replaced before the eighth, having thrown 113 pitches.

The Orioles added a run in the seventh, when Brady Anderson walked, stole second and scored on Bonilla's single.

Seattle loaded the bases in the eighth with two outs, but Alan Mills struck out Dan Wilson to end the threat.

"We're playing now like we were expected to play earlier," said Mills, whose fastball was clocked in the mid-90s. "Everyone in here knew we were better than we were playing."

Orioles tonight

Opponent: Seattle Mariners

Site: Oriole Park

Time: 7: 35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Mariners' Sterling Hitchcock (12-5, 5.26) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (7-10, 5.04)

% Tickets: 3,500 remain

Pub Date: 8/21/96

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