Mike Mussina had been down this road before, chasing perfection into the late innings. He made another exhausting run last night. Out of breath at the end, the Orioles' ace also was out of luck.
Working the corners of a wide strike zone to perfection, Mussina retired the first 23 batters before a two-out double by rookie Frank Catalanotto in the eighth inning assured that the Orioles' 4-0 win over the Detroit Tigers would stay out of the record books.
Twice forced to the disabled list in a stop-and-start season, Mussina struck out Gabe Alvarez and walked off to another standing ovation from a crowd of 47,519 at Camden Yards, then allowed a one-out single to Deivi Cruz in the ninth before completing his second two-hitter this year.
Catalanotto, recalled from Triple-A Toledo on July 23, lined a first-pitch slider down the line in right. Mussina turned to watch the ball and trotted toward third, never reacting to another lost opportunity. Third baseman Cal Ripken pounded his fist in his glove as if to join in the applause as Mussina returned to the mound.
"You get chills because you want to be part of something special," Eric Davis said, "but Mike pitched his tail off."
The victory was the Orioles' 19th in 24 games since the break, but they failed to gain on Boston, a 2-1 winner in Seattle, and remained 9 1/2 games back in the wild-card chase.
It also brought reminders of Mussina's May 30 start against Cleveland last year, when Sandy Alomar broke up his perfect game with one out in the ninth inning. But if this was more heartbreak, it was hidden well.
"Everybody thinks when you do something like this, it's disappointing. I don't know why everybody feels that way," said Mussina, who struck out eight, walked none and threw 93 pitches. "No-hitters and perfect games are unique situations, so if you're disappointed by it, that's the wrong way to look at it."
Last night also featured another home run by Davis, his 22nd this season, in the fourth inning. His hitting streak has reached 21 games, tying him with Joe Orsulak for the sixth longest by an Oriole.
He'd have to accept second-billing behind Mussina (10-5), who was trying to record the first perfect game in Orioles history. He settled for remaining unbeaten in six starts since the All-Star break and getting his third career two-hitter.
"Honestly, I didn't feel that much different today than I do any other game," Mussina said. "Sometimes you make a pitch and the guy makes an out, and sometimes you make a pitch and the guy gets a hit. It takes a lot of little things to have a game come together like this."
Because of Monday's day off, Mussina was working on five days' rest. His last start had come Wednesday at Tiger Stadium, when he limited Detroit to one run over six innings despite tightness in his right hamstring.
The time off didn't hurt. Neither did numerous delays that included three ejections.
Tigers manager Buddy Bell was tossed by plate umpire John Hirschbeck in the sixth inning for arguing a called strike on Gabe Alvarez. Mussina struck out Alvarez on the next pitch, then had to wait again while outfielder Bobby Higginson came out to argue his ejection by second base umpire Rich Garcia as the griping in the Tigers' dugout continued.
Mussina struck out Paul Bako looking, then got Cruz swinging to end the inning. Moose calls filled the ballpark as Mussina calmly strode to the clubhouse to escape the humidity. If the Tigers wanted to break his rhythm, they were failing.
"He threw pitches in between, stayed loose," catcher Chris Hoiles said. "And the professional that Mike is, he had no problems with it."
"I knew that eventually something was going to have to happen," Mussina said. "When someone gets in a groove and momentum is on one side, it's the manager's job to go out there and try to swing it. I wasn't surprised at all."
Mussina kept the ball in the infield in the seventh, the last out a high chopper back to the mound by former Oriole Geronimo Berroa, who replaced Higginson in right. But he had another lengthy wait in the bottom of the inning when the Orioles scored on a bases-loaded walk by rookie Matt Anderson.
Mussina struck out Tony Clark to begin the eighth and got two strikes on Luis Gonzalez. The second, which also appeared off the plate, brought an argument from Gonzalez and another ejection as he stood nose-to-nose with Hirschbeck. Mussina threw a couple warmup tosses, then got Gonzalez's replacement, Trey Beamon, on a shallow fly to left. Catalanotto, who had popped to first and struck out, ended the suspense.
"He threw me a cutter inside which surprised me a little bit," Catalanotto said. "I'm pretty much looking away there because that's where he's been going for all his strikes. I just reacted and was able to put it in play. You had to be aggressive on him early in the count because after that, he was going to go off the plate and get his strikes."
Mussina said: "When John Hirschbeck's behind the plate, you understand there's going to be a liberal strike zone. It's not something he just came up with. Everybody knows he's like that."
The Tigers had some early chances to get Mussina, but his defense wouldn't allow it. Second baseman Roberto Alomar, just activated from the disabled list, leaped to grab a liner from Higginson to end the first inning. Center fielder Brady Anderson made a leaping catch at the fence to rob Clark of an extra-base hit leading off the second. In the third, Ripken dived to his left to snatch a grounder from Alvarez and get the out at first base, and Deivi Cruz lined to shortstop Mike Bordick.
"It could have been over a lot sooner," Mussina said.
Instead, it went on long enough to tease. Again.
"I'd like to see those things happen," manager Ray Miller said, "but you know what? If you never get one and you end up pitching about 25 more of those one-hitters and two-hitters, that's pretty good."
Opponent: Detroit Tigers
Site: Camden Yards
Time: 3: 05 p.m.
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Tigers' Justin Thompson (9-8, 3.70) vs. Orioles' Juan Guzman (6-12, 4.41)
Tickets: Scattered singles remain
Pub Date: 8/05/98
Mike Mussina has come close to pitching either a perfect game or no-hitter on four occasions, including last night:
Date .. ..Opponent . .. ..Inn. .. .. .. ..Skinny Finish
8/4/98 .. Detroit* .. .. .8th .. .. ..Catalanotto 2-out double 2-hitter
6/25/97 . Milwaukee .. .. 8th .. .. ..Valentin lead-off single 3-hitter
5/30/97 ..Cleveland* .. ..9th .. .. ..Alomar 1-out single 1-hitter
7/17/92 ..Texas .. .. .. .5th .. .. ..Reimer 1-out double 1-hitter
* -- had perfect game
Moose by the numbers
A look at Mike Mussina's two-hitter:
Pitching line .. .. IP .. .. H .. .. ER .. .. BB .. .. SO .. .. NP
Mussina (14-7) . ... 9 .. .. 2 .. ... 0 .. ... 0 .. ... 8 .. .. 93
8: Ground outs
5: Fly outs
4: Pop outs
2: Line outs
3: Near no-hitters
Pub Date: 8/05/98