CLEVELAND -- Mike Mussina had the Cleveland Indians talking to themselves or suffering in silence yesterday. Either way, they were a tortured bunch.
Bip Roberts strikes out on a knuckle curve, stares for a moment in disbelief and slams his bat to the ground. Omar Vizquel swings through a fastball and flings his bat in one motion, then angrily removes his helmet with a grimace that exudes pain.
At least their misery had company. Lots of it.
Roberts and Vizquel made up more than the top of Cleveland's order in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. They also were part of a vast collection of Mussina victims.
Roberts and Vizquel each struck out three times against him. Manny Ramirez, Brian Giles and Marquis Grissom twice. Jim Thome, David Justice and Matt Williams once. Only Sandy Alomar was immune, and he couldn't get the ball out of the infield.
Compared to the others, he was locked in against the Orioles' ace.
Mussina had nothing to show for his masterly seven-inning effort the Orioles' 2-1, 12-inning loss except records -- owned and shared.
His 15 strikeouts were a career high, League Championship Series record and Jacobs Field postseason record. The five in a row tied the LCS mark held by former Orioles right-hander Curt Schilling.
His 31 strikeouts in three postseason starts this year are an Orioles record, surpassing Dave McNally, who had 24 in 1969. And yesterday's total tied Jim Palmer's club record for an entire LCS.
"I must be the only person on the whole planet who never feels like he's in a groove," Mussina said. "It's the playoffs. This is a very good team, it's 0-0, and I'm just trying to get the guy out at the plate. Whatever way that happens, that's how I'm pitching. They might hit three rockets to my center fielder; they might strike out three times. It doesn't really matter to me.
"I never feel like I can go out there and throw the ball with my eyes closed and they're not going to hit it."
It only seemed that way.
Mussina beat Randy Johnson twice in the AL Division Series. He was beating Cleveland hitters into near submission yesterday, and actually pitying them.
"I honestly think they were blind," he said. "I think it's unfair to play a baseball game at 4 o'clock in the afternoon when the sun's going down this time of the year. It's unfair. For four or five innings, nobody could see."
"He didn't need any help today," Grissom said.
He struck out the side in the first, third and sixth innings, and didn't allow a hit until one out in the fourth, when Ramirez lined a fastball into right field. The previous batter, Vizquel, had gone down chasing a high fastball after seeing the knuckle curve.
Engaged in a scoreless battle with 39-year-old Indians right-hander Orel Hershiser, Mussina didn't surrender another hit until the seventh, which began with Ramirez becoming the 15th Indian to strike out after a lengthy at-bat. Jim Thome got ahead 3-0, couldn't touch a changeup and knuckle curve, and then walked on a borderline fastball that Mussina thought was a strike. Justice followed with a drive to center field that fell in front of Brady Anderson, who froze momentarily and couldn't make up for lost time. Williams then grounded a single up the middle just beyond diving shortstop Mike Bordick to break up the shutout.
Mussina was done after seven innings and 120 pitches, allowing only three hits. He didn't consider it a wasted performance.
"Shoot, I was one lost fly ball way from losing," he said. "My job is to keep us close and get late in the game and give us a chance to win. And it happens in many, many different ways. Today was one of the extreme ways."
Mike Mussina's 15 strikeouts yesterday tied for second-most in postseason history. Of the top 11 strikeout games in postseason history, only three were in losing efforts:
No. Pitcher, team, Opp., Series, Gm., Res.
17 Bob Gibson, Cardinals, Tigers, 1968, WS, 1, W 4-0
15 Sandy Koufax, Dodgers, Yankees, 1963, WS, 1, W 5-2
15 Mike Mussina, Orioles, Indians, 1997, ALCS, 3, L 2-1
14 Carl Erskine, Dodgers, Yankees, 1953, WS, 3, W 3-2
14 Joe Coleman, Tigers, A's, 1972, ALCS, 3, W 3-0
14 John Candelaria, Pirates, Reds, 1975, NLCS, 3, L 5-3
14 Mike Boddicker, Orioles, White Sox, 1983, ALCS, 2, W 4-0
14 Mike Scott, Astros, Mets, 1986, NLCS, 1, W 1-0
13 Howard Emke, Athletics, Cubs, 1929, WS, 1, W 3-1
13 Bob Gibson, Cardinals, Yankees, 1964, WS, 5, W 4-0
13 Tom Seaver, Mets, Reds, 1973, NLCS, 1, L 2-1
Last year in his first postseason, Mike Mussina was less than
stellar. This year has been a different story:
Date, Opp, IP, H, ER, BB, K
10/4, Cle, 6, 7, 3, 2, 6
10/11, NYY, 7 2/3 , 8, 5, 2, 6
Tot. 13 2/3 , 15, 8, 4, 12
10/1, Sea, 7, 5, 2, 0, 9
10/5, Sea, 7, 2, 1, 3, 7
10/11, Cle, 7, 3, 1, 2, 15
Tot. 21, 10, 4, 5, 31
Pub Date: 10/12/97