CHICAGO -- Mike Mussina's mystery month took another turn for the strange last night. A late check-in, another instance of vanishing offense and a brutal first two innings sentenced the Orioles' ace to an 8-2 loss to the surprising Chicago White Sox.
While they continue to wait for order to be restored in their bullpen, the Orioles have to be stunned by Mussina's absence of a win with one start remaining this month.
Mussina is likewise waiting for normalcy to return behind him. The Orioles entered the game with a .301 team average. However, because of a complicated charter situation, they entered Chicago at about 5:45 a.m.
Time of touchdown proved the stronger trend as the Orioles gave a tired-looking performance against struggling veteran Cal Eldred, whose first three starts were remarkable only because his 8.78 ERA didn't include a loss. One night after managing five hits against a rookie left-hander, they only produced two behind Mussina. Asked whether the team's late arrival may have factored in the performance, Mussina said, "Sure it did. Add to the fact that Eldred was throwing the way he was throwing and it made it tough for us. We didn't hit very much. I didn't do it pitching-wise. Put the two together and it's an 8-2 loss."
This is strange, strange stuff within an otherwise strangely successful month.
Mussina carried a career April record of 22-8 and 3.56 ERA into the season. A year ago he produced every win for a tattered starting rotation until April 30 en route to a second-plato finish in Cy Young Award balloting. This season the rest of the rotation is 6-0 while he scratches for his first win within the last installment of a three-year contract. No one, especially Mussina, has yet made the connection. However, Mussina admitted irritation prior to the start over his predicament.
Eldred (1-0) had survived only 13 1/3 innings while allowing 27 base runners and a .308 average in his three starts. However, the Orioles mostly flailed after taking a 1-0 lead before their first out. Following Eldred's leadoff walk to Brady Anderson, second baseman Delino DeShields doubled to the right-center-field wall to score Anderson. DeShields was caught stealing with Albert Belle hitting and the Orioles couldn't place another runner until Charles Johnson's leadoff home run in the sixth.
Mussina (0-2) has now gone five consecutive starts without a win for the first time since September 1997. He was burned by two home runs; the sixth and seventh he has allowed this season, including catcher Josh Paul's first major-league home run, a three-run shot to spice a four-run second.
Paul tripled and scored in the seventh inning to force a 6-2 game. Mussina lasted only three hitters past Paul as Frank Thomas chased him with an RBI single that created a five-run lead.
By then, the Orioles were well on their way to extending their curious run of offensive brownouts behind Mussina. In his five starts, the Orioles have averaged 2.8 runs. The tendency has not been lost upon Mussina, yet to experience the other, starters' benefit of pitching from ahead.
By surrendering seven earned runs in 6 1/3 innings, Mussina saw his ERA sky from 3.41 to 4.50.
The day began badly even before the Orioles checked into their downtown hotel. A tardy team charter prevented them from getting to bed until 7 a.m. Mussina had been given the option of flying ahead of the team on Sunday but maintained a long-standing refusal to do so.
Before he could clear his head and determine which pitches were working for him, Mussina found himself trailing 5-1.
Jose Valentin slugged his first home ran with the White Sox to tie the game in the bottom of the first inning. Chris Singleton then began the four-ran second with a bunt single at third base. A rare defensive lapse by shortstop Mike Bordick worsened the jam. Rather than take the out at first on Carlos Lee's grounder, Bordick wheeled on Singleton, who had strayed beyond second base. Bordick tried to take the play himself rather than flip to DeShields but his dive missed Singleton.
Third baseman Greg Norton quickly opened a two-ran lead with a single to right field. Mussina then fell behind Paul before feeding him 'a pitch that was driven 393 feet to left-center field.
In what looked at first glance to be a pitching mismatch, Eldred turned in one of the most dominant performances of his checkered career. His 11 strikeouts were one shy of his career best.
Eldred never had to pitch from the stretch after DeShields was caught stealing. Johnson's home ran was the only interruption in a ran that saw Eldred retire 26 of his last 27 hitters.
Opponent: Chicago White Sox
Site: Comiskey Park, Chicago
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Pat Rapp (2-0, 3.50) vs. White Sox's Mike Sirotka (2-1, 4.80)