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Mussina, fill-ins plug Sox, 10-2 With Davis surgery set, Tarasco, Hammonds step up with RBI, HR; Ace goes 8-1 on 5-hitter; 1st baseman for night, Surhoff adds 4 hits

CHICAGO — CHICAGO -- The Orioles boarded last night's charter to Boston with mixed emotions. They now fully realize they will travel the next eight weeks without Eric Davis, who will undergo surgery Friday to remove a mass from his abdomen. At the same time, they welcome the ascendance of his two young understudies and the return of Mike Mussina to star status.

While the team was confirming Davis' surgery, it was riding a third straight powerful start by Mussina and a command performance from outfielders Jeffrey Hammonds and Tony Tarasco. They teamed for a 10-2 win over the Chicago White Sox to allow the Orioles a split of the four-game series, despite losing the first two games.

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In going the distance to win his eighth consecutive decision, Mussina continued an All-Star campaign by limiting the Sox to seventh-inning home runs by Albert Belle and Lyle Mouton. By then, a once-slumping lineup had erupted for five runs against Sox starter James Baldwin (3-8).

Tarasco and Hammonds each played a significant role in creating the cushion. Given a bases-loaded, one-out situation, right fielder Tarasco worked Baldwin for a fourth-inning walk to break a scoreless tie. An inning later, left fielder Hammonds ran his hitting streak to seven games by cracking a two-run homer to top a four-run uprising.

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"I feel like he's starting to play like everybody thinks he's capable of playing. He's relaxed," manager Davey Johnson said of Hammonds. "Sometimes he tried to do too much. When you try to do too much, sometimes you swing at bad pitches, you start pressing and it starts going the other way. He's an exceptional young player. The first inning he laid off all those tough pitches then mashed one. Last year he probably would have swung at them. The next time he laid off then got a good one and tallywhacked it."

The Orioles are unapologetic about seeking a replacement for Davis, but Hammonds and Tarasco have bridged what might have been a dicey time.

Mussina (8-1) merely served up more of what he's been bringing the last two weeks. He came within two outs of a perfect game against Cleveland on May 30, then followed up with 6 1/3 strong innings June 4 against the New York Yankees. Mussina left the game with a shutout intact, then watched a slipshod bullpen effort cost him a decision. Last night's win lifted Mussina's road record to 4-1. His only loss of the season came in his first start at Texas on April 6.

"The [Cleveland] game was just a unique situation," said Mussina. "The New York game was kind of like today. I made some good pitches and got a big out when I had to. Today they got the two solo home runs that made it 5-2 and we came right back and scored some more the next inning. That's the way it's been going and why we've been successful."

After allowing a double and a single in the first inning, Mussina faced the minimum number of hitters in the next five innings. He lost his shutout when Belle cranked a 1-1 pitch for his 14th home run. Two batters later the underrated Mouton drove a fastball over the center-field fence for his third homer.

Mussina, who allowed five hits and struck out six in his second complete game of the year, avoided an early deficit thanks to shortstop Mike Bordick's larceny against Belle. With two outs in the first and Norberto Martin at second base, Belle slashed a hit that a diving Bordick smothered, holding Martin at third base.

Bordick contributed at the plate, too, with three hits, including a two-run double that bumped the lead to 7-2 in the eighth inning.

The White Sox were playing decidedly short as first baseman Frank Thomas missed a third consecutive game with a pulled abdominal muscle. Manager Terry Bevington was hopeful enough to send over one lineup card including Thomas' name.

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However, that was before the Big Hurt could not get through pre-game stretching.

Thomas' absence was especially painful given who he would have been facing. Thomas owns a lifetime .476 average against Mussina with six home runs and 11 RBIs in 42 at-bats.

"You still have to focus on what you have to do. I just feel fortunate he's not in there," Mussina said.

"My mechanics are allowing me get the ball where I want to a lot better than last year. I struggled with that stuff all last year and couldn't throw the ball where I wanted to at times."

Instead of Thomas, it was Hammonds who brought the pain. His second-inning double amounted to nothing, but his fifth-inning at-bat tore open the game.

Baldwin had dodged punishment throughout the first four innings, walking three in the fourth inning besides allowing a double to B. J. Surhoff, one of four hits by the fill-in first baseman.

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In the fifth Brady Anderson led off with the first of three singles. Roberto Alomar reached on a fielder's choice, stole second base and advanced on a passed ball. Hitting in his ninth straight game, Rafael Palmeiro, the night's designated hitter, then doubled into the right-field corner, scoring Alomar.

Surhoff made the score 3-0 by singling. Hammonds then turned on Baldwin for his sixth home run and RBIs No. 17 and 18. No more is he looked upon as a talent within a brittle body. He is running with noticeably more abandon and wasting few at-bats.

In Hammonds' last 26 starts, he has hit safely in 21 games. He has shown extra-base power, speed and a competent glove. In a sentence, he has shown traces of what the Orioles long hoped for but had recently stopped believing he could be.

He's happy to have the opportunity, but sorry it came at Davis' expense.

"It hurts," Hammonds said of Davis' pending surgery and two-month absence. "Eric can do so many things. Eric carried the team early in the year. Eric showed what he can do when he's out there healthy.

"I don't care how good you're playing, Eric can always help. You can't dwell on it. It's done. He's been down a couple weeks now. At least we know he's going to get better. That's the main thing."

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Hammonds' homer was his fourth in his last 12 games. During his seven-game tear, Hammonds is batting .524 (11-for-21) with five extra-base hits.

The Orioles piled on for four more runs against reliever Bill Simas in the eighth. At that point, all talk of a team slump ceased.

Pub Date: 6/10/97


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