NEW YORK -- Mike Mussina suffered a loss and a jagged cut on his right index finger yesterday. Compared to what the New York Yankees suffered the three days before, Mussina wasn't complaining.
The Orioles lost a 10-3 battle to the Yankees, but like Sunday morning betting lines, this skirmish was for entertainment only. The hard-luck Mussina was denied a win in a new way as he survived only three-plus innings before the cut forced him from a 4-1 game.
The Yankees, facing a four-game sweep and an 0-for-8 1997 run at the hands of the Orioles, then hammered the game out of reach with six runs (three earned) against Nerio Rodriguez, who made his first appearance since being promoted from Triple-A Rochester.
The Orioles team that straggled into New York with a five-game losing streak left it with an 8 1/2 -game lead with only 22 left to play. Even Mussina, forced to bite his tongue after recent disappointments, spoke graciously.
"You can't really complain too much because we'd been playing poorly for a week. And they had been playing poorly for a week," offered Mussina, who was looking to deal the Yankees their seventh straight loss and 10th in 11 games. "Coming into a series like this, somebody has to get better. Somebody was going to have to win. Both of us had lost five out of six. Somebody's going to lose. Fortunately, we played well enough the first three games to put it behind us."
The Orioles made a prophet of manager Davey Johnson. Despite his team's five-game losing streak, he had predicted it would raise itself for the Yankees.
"We let some get away down in Florida. I think everybody was looking at this. Guys were up more," Johnson said.
If anybody was still looking yesterday, they saw a game in which the Yankees used home runs by Paul O'Neill and Jorge Posada to pin the loss on Mussina (13-7), who hasn't won since Aug. 8. In six starts since, Mussina has allowed 15 earned runs in 34 2/3 innings. Yesterday marked his shortest start of the season and his first without a strikeout.
"He wanted to go out [for the fourth inning] down 2-1 and try to gut his way through. But once he gave up the home run [in the fourth], I said there's no sense pushing it," Johnson said.
Mussina suffered the wound on the third-inning pitch that O'Neill shoved just inside the left-field foul pole. After the inning, trainer Richie Bancells tried to stem the bleeding, but the wound reopened when pressured.
Mussina lasted only two batters into the fourth. Derek Jeter singled before Posada crushed the first pitch 411 feet to center field.
The Orioles do not expect Mussina to miss his next start on Saturday against the Yankees.
"We're not going to go a whole year and beat them every single game," Mussina said. "Sooner or later they're going to come around and get us. Hopefully, it's not too many more times."
Yankees starter Kenny Rogers (6-6) is a favorite target for fan abuse in the Bronx. Having won only once since June 6, he entered yesterday with a 5.46 ERA, including a 6.14 ERA in 18 starts. The last time Rogers saw the Orioles he was hooted from the mound after surrendering nine runs (six earned) in 4 1/3 innings on May 27. But yesterday, with the pressure of a pennant race all but gone, the left-hander flourished.
"A lot of people lost a lot of money today," Rogers said.
The Orioles took a brief lead in the first inning when Cal Ripken sliced a home run off the right-field foul pole. Estimated at 320 feet, Ripken's 17th home run marked the 15th straight game in which the Orioles have homered.
From there, the offense fizzled. A promising third inning died when Jerome Walton failed to bunt over Jeffrey Hammonds and Ripken followed with a double-play grounder.
A hard landing area in front of the mound did what the Orioles couldn't do as Rogers was forced out after 5 1/3 innings with a muscle strain in his backside.
"Today we were good in every phase of the game. This will help us relax a little," he said. "Maybe we can pick up where we left off."
The Yankees are looking behind themselves now as they try to distance themselves from the Anaheim Angels in the wild-card chase. Meanwhile, the Orioles' magic number is seven for clinching a postseason berth and 14 to win the division.
No one will accuse the Orioles of playing their best baseball -- nagging injuries in the bullpen and to many position players have limited them -- but they remain professional enough to give important performances at critical times. The Orioles are only 3-4 on this road trip and 4-6 in their run of 20 consecutive games against teams with winning records. However, their three wins to open the series at Yankee Stadium placed a tacit seal on the AL East title.
By yesterday morning, there was clubhouse talk about travel plans between Milwaukee, where the Orioles end the season, and Seattle, where they presumably would open the postseason against the AL West champion.
Amazing how a 9 1/2 -game lead can change a lineup card.
B. J. Surhoff and Brady Anderson didn't start, leaving sore-legged Walton to man left field with Hammonds in center and Geronimo Berroa in right.
The Orioles trailed 10-2 entering the bottom of the seventh, so Johnson pulled Ripken from third base. It was the 12th time this season Ripken has left a game early, including his July 20 ejection.
When the visitor's dugout roof literally fell in on them Wednesday in Miami, it seemed a proper metaphor for a hobbled team in a five-game skid. But in hindsight, the fact that no one was hurt in a potential catastrophe suggests positive forces remain in place.
"It's something called fate. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. I do believe in it. I hope I'm on the good side this time. Time will tell," Johnson had said before Saturday's game.
The Orioles entered New York unsure of what might happen. But for three games they played confidently and rediscovered a potent offense. Even in yesterday's loss the Orioles slashed 11 hits, raising their September average to .298.
Yesterday's defeat broke this season's seven-game win streak against the Yankees and an eight-game streak dating to the final regular-season game of 1996. Still, the Orioles accomplished what they wanted in New York and more. Beginning with Rick Krivda's tone-setting six innings Thursday, they trailed for only three innings in the first three games.
Even in defeat, the blowout allowed Johnson to rest the core of his bullpen for a second consecutive day. Today Eric Davis will rejoin his teammates in Cleveland. Two more minor-league promotions will flesh out a thin clubhouse.
Opponent: Cleveland Indians
Site: Jacobs Field, Cleveland
Time: 7: 05
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Scott Kamieniecki (9-5, 4.06) vs. Indians' Orel Hershiser (13-5, 4.54)
O's magic number: 14 (any combination of Orioles wins and Yankees losses to clinch AL East title)
AL East standings
.. .. .. .. .. ..W .. ..L .. ..Pct. .. ..GB
Orioles .. .. ..88 .. .52.. . .629 .. ...--
Yankees .. .. ..80 .. .61.. . .567 .. ...8 1/2
Pub Date: 9/08/97