OAKLAND, Calif. - In a political statement disguised as a loss, the Orioles held to their much-scrutinized Cuban policy last night. For five innings, they wouldn't touch Ariel Prieto.
Talk about an upside-down world. The Oakland's A's completed a three-game sweep of the Orioles with a 10-3 demolition in which Prieto, a Cuban defector who began the stream of underground talent that has made it from the island nation to the major leagues, won his first game in almost three years by outpitching Mike Mussina before 25,287 at Network Associates Coliseum.
A coin flip was needed to determine which was more shocking: Prieto controlling the Orioles after confronting a career-threatening injury two years ago or Mussina groping for a way to muffle the A's bats. The combination left the Orioles clubhouse a quiet place and their record nine games below .500.
The A's called up Prieto as the emergency replacement for the injured Omar Olivares. After the Orioles jumped him for a 2-0 first-inning lead - the third time in as many games the Orioles grabbed at least a two-run lead - Prieto allowed only two hits the next four innings.
When Prieto (1-0) left after five innings, the A's had unleashed a withering eight-run attack on Mussina (5-7), who suffered his first loss since May 20 and absorbed his worst beating of the season.
"I tried every single thing I could," said Mussina. "I have more than one or two things most nights. They got a hit on everything I have, at least one, maybe more - fastballs, change-ups, cutters. There weren't any flares I could remember. If they got a ball they could drive, they drove it."
A's third baseman Eric Chavez provided the night's most compelling offensive performance by becoming the second player this season to hit for the cycle against the Orioles. Chavez doubled, singled and tripled off Mussina without an RBI in the first five innings, then finished the feat by homering to center field against Jose Mercedes in the seventh. Chicago White Sox shortstop Jose Valentin accomplished the feat on April 27.
Given a 2-0 lead, Mussina couldn't make it last for more than an inning. The A's spent the entire game proving that their American League West lead is a legitimate one. Even leading by seven runs, second baseman Randy Velarde and shortstop Miguel Tejada made a dazzling double play on a ground ball Velarde shoveled with his glove, Tejada grabbed and then threw a one-hop strike off the wrong foot to beat Albert Belle at first.
"They're a real hot club," said Mussina. "They're at the top of their game. We happened to come into the game at the wrong time."
The Orioles' fifth straight loss was also their 10th loss in their last 11 road games and dropped them to 30-39, two games worse than last year's record at the same juncture. In their last five road losses, they have been outscored, 50-30.
"We're a better team at home right now," said Mussina. "It seems right when we start playing poorly we have to hop on a plane and go somewhere. We won six in a row at home, lost the last two, then jump on a plane and go somewhere. Now we've lost five in a row. I don't know."
Mussina began the night among the league's lowest 15 ERAs but soon discovered himself trapped by his team's ongoing road problems and an uncharacteristically flat assortment.
Helped by an error, the A's scored a first-inning run before tying the game on catcher Roberto Hernandez's sacrifice fly in the second. Mussina struggled constantly and pitched from the stretch for all but seven hitters. He allowed two home runs, one more than in his previous five starts combined.
The big-swinging A's are currently the AL's irresistable force. They entered last night having scored 75 runs in their last seven games while batting .363 with 19 home runs. Mussina brought a career 13-5 record vs. the A's. The home team trend held.
Nine of the first 20 A's to face Mussina hit safely. Mussina managed 14 outs while the A's raked him for 22 total bases. They sent at least five hitters against him in every inning.
"You just kept waiting for Mike to find himself, his location and his command and it never happened," said manager Mike Hargrove.
The Orioles took a lead when Mike Bordick reached on a three-base outfield error followed by three consecutive singles. After loading the bases with one hit, the Orioles couldn't push a runner past second the rest of the night.
A four-run fifth included Tejada's two-run triple, Jason Giambi's triple that rolled to the wall through the right-center field gap, and rookie outfield sensation Terrence Long's bases-empty homer chased him with an 8-2 deficit.
Opponent: Seattle Mariners
Site: Safeco Field, Seattle
TV/Radio: Ch. 54/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Jason Johnson (0-5, 5.93) vs. Mariners' Jamie Moyer (2-2, 3.55)