ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The amazing Anaheim Angels were breathing the rarefied air at the top of the American League West standings and pondering the possibilities of a playoff preview against the team with the best record in baseball, but the Orioles brought an unwanted dose of reality with them last night to Anaheim Stadium.
Right-hander Mike Mussina overpowered them for 7 1/3 innings and the latest version of the Orioles lineup pounded out 12 hits on the way to a 6-2 victory that knocked the Angels out of first place.
Cal Ripken had three hits and Chris Hoiles drove in two runs as the Orioles won for the 13th time in their last 16 games and increased their American League East lead to six games over the second-place New York Yankees, who lost to the Minnesota Twins.
It's also the first time the Orioles have been 31 games over .500 since the 1983 team, which won the World Series, finished the season 98-64.
The Angels managed just two runs on three three hits against Mussina, who gave up two runs or fewer for the fifth straight start and recorded his 13th victory of the season. The Seattle Mariners, meanwhile, were riding a 19-strikeout performance by Randy Johnson to a 5-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox and reclaiming first place in the AL West.
It's that time of year, but no one really expected the Angels to be scoreboard watching in August. They are one of the season's most uplifting success stories, but last night's game exposed the difference between an against-all-odds success story and a fully-loaded world championship contender.
The Orioles sent one of the best pitchers in baseball to the mound and backed him up with the deepest bullpen in the American League. The Angels countered with a member of their patchwork starting rotation -- knuckleballer Dennis Springer -- and the hard-edged offensive attack that has smoothed over a lot of the rough spots on their roster.
Mussina (13-4) won his third in a row and closer Randy Myers shut down a dangerous situation in the ninth -- bases loaded, no outs -- to record his 33rd save.
"Moose pitched a heckuva game," manager Davey Johnson said. "It was an outstanding performance on his part."
Mussina has the best winning percentage (.696) of any active major-league pitcher, and that is not by accident. But the Orioles could not have been looking forward to facing Dennis Springer, though his 7-4 record was tempered by a 5.57 ERA. He had been particularly tough on Baltimore in the past, pitching 5 2/3 innings of two-hit relief in a May 14 victory here and compiling a 2-1 record and 1.35 ERA over the past two seasons.
"We haven't done much against him," Johnson said before the game.
It looked like that would be the case again last night, when Springer cruised through the first three innings, but the Orioles remained patient at the plate and finally broke through with two runs in the fourth.
B. J. Surhoff, who had been moved into the third spot in the batting order in Johnson's latest lineup reconfiguration, led off with a single and Geronimo Berroa worked Springer for a walk before the Orioles took advantage of an error by right fielder Tim Salmon to score twice without the benefit of another hit.
Rafael Palmeiro grounded into a force play to put runners at first and third, then stole second. Cal Ripken followed with a short fly ball to right center, but Salmon dropped the ball for an error,
allowing Surhoff to score and Palmeiro to move to third. It went into the score book as a sacrifice fly on the presumption that Surhoff would have tagged up and scored on the catch, but the extra base it afforded Palmeiro cost Springer another run when Harold Baines bounced out to second base.
The Orioles padded that lead in the fifth and sixth. Mike Bordick opened the fifth with his fifth home run of the season and doubles by Brady Anderson and Surhoff gave the Orioles a four-run lead. Cal Ripken opened the sixth with a double and moved around to score on a groundout and a sacrifice fly by Chris Hoiles.
"We didn't crush [Springer]," Johnson said, "but we got to him. We've had trouble in the past, but you want to get somebody on and then start a runner once in awhile. Then, when he gets a little tired, see it and hit it in the gaps."
If there is a major difference between last year's offensive attack and this year's, it was illustrated by the way the club kept the runners moving around the bases last night, even though they were not peppering the bleachers with home runs. Three of the first five runs scored on balls that either were outs or should have been.
Mussina didn't need quite so much help. He didn't give up a hit through the first three innings and retired 19 of the first 21 batters he faced on the way to a relatively effortless victory.
"I didn't feel that overpowering," Mussina said. "I made some good pitches ahead in the count and got some outs. I did a decent job of keeping them off the bases and mixing my pitches."
The Angels did not get their first hit until Dave Hollins lined a single just over the glove of shortstop Mike Bordick, and did not get another until Hollins broke up the shutout with a run-scoring double in the sixth.
Springer was icing his arm by then. He worked six innings and gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits. Reliever Darrell May came on to pitch a scoreless seventh but Japanese pitcher Shigetoshi Hasegawa gave up three straight hits in the eighth, including an RBI single by Hoiles to account for the final Orioles run.
The surprising Angels have made some dramatic comebacks this year, but not this time. Mussina never was seriously challenged and Springer would be charged with his fifth loss of the season.
Opponent: Anaheim Angels
Site: Anaheim (Calif.) Stadium
Time: 10: 05
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Scott Kamieniecki (7-5, 4.10) vs. Angels' Chuck Finley (11-6, 4.24)
Pub Date: 8/09/97