As he watched silently from the mound, the bench and the tunnel leading to the Orioles' clubhouse, Mike Mussina saw vision after nightmarish vision pass before him last night. From absurd fielding, untimely hitting and improper base running to a ghastly reminder of what happened to him on the same mound two years before, Mussina saw all.
But in what might be a turning point to a maddening season, Mussina's seven solid innings and his offense's seventh-inning revival were enough to give the Orioles a 5-1 win over the Seattle Mariners before 34,764 at Camden Yards. The Orioles have now won five of their last 20.
"We've won three out of three now. We're going to have to start a new count," corrected manager Mike Hargrove.
The win was Mussina's second in 11 starts and first since an April 29 138-pitch complete game against the Texas Rangers and completed the Orioles' three-game sweep of the Mariners. The Orioles held the previously first-place Mariners to six runs during a series in which they doubled their win total for the month. Mussina (2-6) won because he allowed five singles, no home runs and two walks while striking out a season-high nine.
Mussina chose to let his 109-pitch performance speak for itself. His sixth quality start of the season - and third in his last three starts - saw only one Seattle runner reach third base. Meanwhile, an offense that had labored for 27 runs in his first 10 starts gave his first two-run cushion since May 4 and produced three runs in an inning for only the third time with their ace in the game.
Perhaps by Mussina staring down the demons that have tormented him this season - the Orioles left runners at third base in three of the first five innings and ran into a double play in a fourth; his only run was unearned; and he had to watch as three walks brought the tying run to the plate in the eighth inning - he might now enjoy a reversal.
Mussina escaped after receiving a three-run seventh inning breakout in which B. J. Surhoff capped his first two-hit game since May 7 and pinch hitter Jeff Conine drilled a pinch two-run double to turn a nervous game into one that ended with Mike Timlin pitching a perfect ninth inning.
"I've found Moose to be very tough mentally, but I think there was a great deal of frustration building in him. There was in me, so I assume there was in him also," said Hargrove. "I think it's nice for him to get the win the way he got it. It's nice that he got to 2-6 and in his next start could be 3-6. This season is not a waste for him, whatsoever."
While Mussina waited for a breakout, nothing was more troubling than Harold Baines' fourth-inning broken bat that raked the right side of Mariners starter Paul Abbott's face. On May 14, 1998, Cleveland catcher Sandy Alomar's line drive caught Mussina just above his right eye, resulting in dozens of stitches, a broken nose and a month on the disabled list. Abbott writhed on the mound for several minutes before being wheeled off the field.
The right side of his face badly swollen, Abbott returned from the University of Maryland Medical Center with a small fracture of the nose to discuss his ordeal.
"I never saw it. I was just going to field the ball like a routine comebacker. All of a sudden I was on the ground. I never saw it [the bat]. I was laying still, hoping nothing else would happen. As bad as I look right now, it could have been a lot worse," Abbott said.
"You don't like to see that happen," said Hargrove, who witnessed Mussina's beaning from the visitors dugout. "It was fortunate the sharp end of the bat didn't hit him, cut him or get in his eye."
Mussina suffered nothing worse than a couple defensive misplays and seven innings of suspense but chose not to speak about his start for a second consecutive game. He made his request through a public relations employee following the game and remained out of the clubhouse for 45 minutes. Mussina has let it be known that he is trying to wipe away all distractions while attempting to right a 1-6 start. He has consistently maintained that ongoing negotiations regarding a possible contract extension do not represent a distraction.
The Orioles preserved the win with a defensive save from shortstop Mike Bordick and an important out from left-hander Buddy Groom in the eighth inning.
Delino DeShields gave the Orioles 1-0 and 2-1 leads on RBI ground balls. Surhoff accounted for a two-run cushion with his most important hit in weeks, a two-out single to score Charles Johnson for a 3-1 lead.
Fighting a 14-for-100 funk that had dropped his average from .360 to .231 before last night, Surhoff remaining at No. 3 is a statement of faith. Surhoff then justified Hargrove's patience with two hits.
"I do have confidence in him. I really do," said Hargrove, who also is aware of Surhoff's streak of 369 consecutive games. "I also know that at some point in time I'm going to have to give B.$J. a break and let him rest, just mentally."
"I'll take anything I can get," Surhoff said of his hits.
Able to quantify his lacking offensive support - 3.07 runs per nine innings, third-worst in the AL - Mussina was reminded of the less tangible element of defense.
Alex Rodriguez led off the third inning with a single into the right-center-field gap. Belle ranged for the ball but allowed it to roll beneath his backhand for what was scored a single and an error. The extra base became huge when John Olerud slammed a one-hop grounder that literally picked DeShields off the ground. But with Rodriguez running from second base instead of first, DeShields tried to cut him down at third. His throw was high and Rodriguez slid in safely as Olerud reached. Edgar Martinez followed with a sacrifice fly to score an unearned run and tie the game.
Opponent: Oakland Athletics
Site: Camden Yards
TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Athletics' Mark Mulder (2-1, 3.83) vs. Orioles' Scott Erickson (1-1, 8.31)