DETROIT — DETROIT -- The only thing more automatic than the Orioles' bullpen this season is the routine issuance of an intentional walk. Last night, in a harrowing eighth inning that wasted Jeffrey Hammonds' offensive fireworks and Mike Mussina's stifling seven innings, neither proceeded as expected.
With a 5-3 lead, the Orioles completed an unsightly three-run meltdown against the Detroit Tigers when Terry Mathews unleashed a wild pitch when trying to intentionally pass Curtis Pride. The gaffe allowed Travis Fryman to score the eventual winning run in a 6-5 loss before 37,074 at Tiger Stadium.
The defeat was only the Orioles' third when leading after seven innings and will leave a bruise. Hammonds homered twice and tripled. Mussina struck out 14. The Orioles bashed Tigers starting pitcher Justin Thompson for three homers.
And none of it mattered because Mathews and his predecessor, Jesse Orosco, combined to allow two hits, two walks, two wild pitches and a pinch home run in perhaps the most slipshod late-inning performance of the season.
"If I knew what happened, it wouldn't have happened," said Mathews, who amazingly lost the game while striking out the side. "In a situation like that, you don't pitch. You just play catch with the catcher. That's why I have a difficult time doing it. There's no explanation for how or why it happened. When you don't let a guy put a ball in play and you wind up letting a run score, that's about as bad as it gets."
Mussina left with a 5-3 lead and the Orioles' sixth win in seven games apparently safe. But before he could ice his right arm, Phil Nevin had hit a pinch two-run homer for a 5-5 tie. Before the situation could be fully explained, Mathews had followed Orosco (2-1) with consecutive wild pitches to give Fryman the 180 feet he needed to break the Orioles' heart.
"I don't want to push Moose too far. He's too valuable," said manager Davey Johnson. "He'd pitched a great game. Jesse made a bad pitch to Nevin. He missed with a couple of pitches and threw one over the plate, which he likes, and boom. That's what happens when your 'pen's a little bit tired. You do things you really don't want to do."
Making the loss even more painful for the Orioles was the fact the New York Yankees had pounded the Toronto Blue Jays and Pat Hentgen earlier in the day. So the Orioles' lead was cut to seven games.
Mussina has owned the Tigers throughout his career. On May 16, 1993, he tied an Orioles record by striking out 14 against them. He also shut them out last Sept. 7 for his 19th and final win of the season, advancing his career record against Detroit to 10-2 in 15 starts, including 4-1 in six starts at claustrophobic Tiger Stadium.
Even worse for the Tigers, Mussina entered last night's start on ++ his best roll in years. He had struck out 34 in his last four outings, and compiled a 1.52 ERA in his last three starts.
Mussina was again at his dominant best. He needed only seven innings to tie his career-high strikeout total. Along the way, he did not require an outfield putout.
"I still felt strong, as strong as I did in the second or third inning, probably better," Mussina said of his exit after seven innings. "It's a matter of how they feel and what they see. They felt it was time.
"It doesn't matter what I did," he added. "It doesn't matter about anything. We didn't win."
The Orioles took a quick 1-0 lead after Hammonds opened the game with a triple to center field.
Running on a sore right Achilles' tendon, he slid hard and got up limping but remained in the game. Johnson had given Hammonds the option of sitting out the game. But Hammonds, savoring a chance to start in center field, declined Johnson's invitation. With the Tigers infield back, Hammonds scored without a throw on Jeff Reboulet's grounder.
Mussina had never taken damage from Tigers cleanup hitter Tony Clark before yesterday. However, Clark likely had never faced him in such a state of mind.
Earlier yesterday, Yankees manager Joe Torre had snubbed Clark a second time when naming a replacement for Chicago White Sox first baseman Frank Thomas to the American League All-Star squad. Torre took Yankees outfielder Paul O'Neill over Clark, whom he had described as his next choice on Thursday.
Clark was 0-for-11 with eight strikeouts against Mussina but exacted small revenge in the first inning with two outs and Fryman at first. Clark lifted his 22nd home run into the right-field upper deck, giving the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
The Orioles were robbed of a tying run in the second when Lenny Webster rocketed a drive to center field. However, Tigers center fielder Brian Hunter denied Webster with a running catch about 420 feet from the plate.
The third inning fell apart when Mike Bordick led off with a single and was erased on Hammonds' double play. Jeff Reboulet followed with a double down the left-field line but was stranded by Rafael Palmeiro's groundout.
Named one of 10 pitchers to the AL All-Star team on Wednesday, Thompson took a 2-0 loss against the Orioles on May 21 when he allowed five hits and struck out nine in eight innings. His only crime that night was allowing Palmeiro a two-run homer in the first.
Given a 2-1 lead last night, the left-hander rolled over the Orioles until the fifth inning. Beginning the inning, Tigers pitchers had allowed only one home run in their last 90 innings. The Orioles ruined the stat in the space of three hitters.
Starting for the third time since June 23, right fielder Tony Tarasco tied the game with a blast that cleared the 415-foot sign in right-center field. Two hitters later, Hammonds extended a breakthrough season by homering to left field for a 3-2 lead.
Mussina had allowed more than two runs in only one of his last seven starts. He failed to add to the string when the Tigers forced a 3-3 tie in the sixth.
Hunter extended his career-high hitting streak to 12 games when he led off with a double. After a strikeout of Bobby Higginson, Fryman singled to right field and easily scored the AL stolen base leader from second.
Hammonds returned in the seventh inning to complete his third multiple-home run game this season. Webster, who had lost a hit in the fifth inning when Pete Incaviglia missed second base going from first to third, scratched out an infield hit followed by strikeouts of Tarasco and Bordick. Hammonds topped the first three-homer game of Thompson's career by slicing his 14th homer inside the right-field foul pole.
Mussina lost control of his fate in the eighth when Hunter singled on his 127th pitch. The pitch count put Mussina's average at 125 in his last four starts and was deemed enough by Johnson.
Orosco, who had maintained 19 of 22 save situations, entered to face pinch hitter Nevin. Noticeably bothered by Hunter's presence, Orosco repeatedly threw to first while falling behind Nevin 2-0. His third pitch reached the upper deck and suddenly Hammonds and Mussina's good work evaporated. The Orioles have blown only four save chances this season. Three have come in Mussina starts.
Orosco expanded the crisis by allowing a single to Fryman and walking Clark on four pitches to put men on first and second with none out.
Mathews then entered the game. With Brian Johnson squared to bunt, Mathews threw a wild pitch, allowing the runners to move up without the bunt. Johnson and Raul Casanova would strike out, as would Jody Reed, but not before the wild pitch on the intentional walk that proved the difference.
In a special section today, The Sun reviews what the Orioles have accomplished this season and looks ahead to the second half. Also included: comparisons of this year's team with some of the great Orioles clubs and remembering Orioles in All-Star Games past. (Section D)
Opponent: Detroit Tigers
Site: Tiger Stadium, Detroit
Time: 1: 05 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Scott Erickson (11-5, 3.07) vs. Tigers' Brian Moehler (6-6, 4.07)
Orioles outfielder Jeffrey Hammonds has made a powerful statement in the six games he has played this week.
At-bats .... 26 ... Doubles .... 2
Hits ....... 10 ... Triples .... 1
Average .. .385 ... Runs ....... 7
Homers ...... 4 ... Walks ...... 1
RBIs ....... 10
Mike Mussina is headed for his fourth All-Star Game on a roll, having pitched to a 2.21 ERA in his past eight starts. But as the three no-decisions and one loss below attest, he also could be going to Cleveland 14-1 instead of 10-2:
Date Opp ...... IP ... H ... ER ... K ... Res.
5/30 Cle. ...... 9 ... 1 .... 0 .. 10 ... W 3-0
6/4 N.Y. ....... 6 1/3 .. 5 .... 2 ... 2 ... ND
6/9 Chi. ....... 9 ... 5 .... 2 ... 6 ... W 10-2
6/14 Atl. ...... 6 ... 7 .... 3 ... 8 ... ND
6/20 Tor. ...... 6 2/3 .. 8 .... 2 ... 5 ... L 3-0
6/25 Mil. ...... 9 ... 3 .... 1 .. 12 ... W 9-1
6/30 Phi. ...... 8 ... 6 .... 1 ... 9 ... W 8-1
7/5 Det. ....... 7 ... 6 .... 4 .. 14 ... ND
Tot. .......... 61 .. 41 ... 15 .. 66
Pub Date: 7/06/97