PHILADELPHIA - Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina was at the right place at the wrong time. On this night, location won out.
Facing a team that had never beaten him, Mussina escaped the clutches of a season bent on testing his patience and faith.
Though lacking his usual precision, he shut out the Philadelphia Phillies after the first inning and was rewarded with a tiebreaking single by Albert Belle off Curt Schilling in the sixth that provided a 2-1 victory last night at Veterans Stadium.
The Orioles (37-47) have won seven of their past 11, with two games remaining before the All-Star break. They're 2-2 on the current road trip, and improved their record to 14-34 away from Camden Yards. They're also 16-16 in one-run games.
Mussina improved to 4-0 lifetime against the Phillies, with only eight earned runs allowed in 31 innings. His three walks were confined to the first three innings, and he struck out 10. It's the 24th time he's reached double figures in his career.
A loss would have kept Mussina looking for his first win since June 16. It would have beat looking back at the first half.
He's given up two runs or fewer in 12 starts. The Orioles, in turn, have scored 64 on his behalf, an average of 3.4 a game. They've averaged 5.8 in the other 65 games.
Rather than represent the American League in Tuesday's All-Star Game, he'll sit at home with a 6-7 record that looks out of place beside a 3.68 ERA.
"The first half has been a little bit of a struggle for Mike," said manager Mike Hargrove. "From my standpoint, it's been frustrating because we haven't scored runs for him, and had we scored those runs, we'd have wins."
The decisive inning began when shortstop Mike Bordick dropped a double inside the left-field line. Delino DeShields was allowed to swing away and flew to left, but Belle delivered the go-ahead run with a single into center field.
Mussina was lifted after eight innings and 120 pitches, turning over the game to a bullpen that had blown 19 saves.
Pinch hitter Brian Hunter singled to right off Buddy Groom leading off the ninth. He was sacrificed to second, and manager Mike Hargrove called upon Mike Timlin. Given his first save opportunity since June 25 in Seattle, he retired Doug Glanville and Ron Gant.
"It's fun to watch. I love to watch pitcher's duels," Mussina said. "But when you pitch in one, and it seems like every game I've been in this year, the game's on the line every pitch I've thrown, it wears on you a little bit.
"I'd like to see a couple handfuls of runs here once in a while. But that's not the way it's going. I've got to go out there and battle with two sometimes and make them stand up."
The Orioles weren't catching Schilling at an opportune time. His season delayed by shoulder surgery, Schilling had allowed five runs in his past 30 innings while winning three consecutive decisions.
He built a 13-inning scoreless streak that ended when Pittsburgh pushed across a run in his last start. Unimpressed, Schilling blanked the Pirates over the next six innings in a 9-1 victory.
The Orioles got to him in the second inning last night to erase the Phillies' 1-0 lead. B.J. Surhoff led off by blooping a double into right field, the ball just eluding the outstretched glove of second baseman Mickey Morandini.
Surhoff took third on a groundout and scored when backup catcher Greg Myers lined a single up the middle.
It was the third hit allowed by Schilling, a former Oriole who was part of the infamous Glenn Davis trade that continues to haunt the organization.
Mike Bordick bounced a one-out single into center field in the first inning but was forced at second. Belle, trying to shake a 3-for-26 slump over his past six games, grounded to first.
Besides Mussina, the Orioles had history on their side last night. Very recent history. They were the last team to defeat Schilling, reaching him for seven runs and 10 hits in five innings of a June 10 start at Camden Yards. He had gone at least seven innings in his next three starts before last night, never allowing more than three runs.
The Phillies have been just as hot, winning five of their past six games, and 14 of 20, before last night. They've won their past six series.
Mussina ran into immediate trouble last night and was fortunate to escape with only one run against him.
Glanville led off the first inning with a single and later scored on a two-out hit by catcher Mike Lieberthal. Mussina, repeatedly falling behind in the count, issued his second walk of the inning to load the bases before striking out Morandini.
The Phillies also put a runner in scoring position the next four innings, again working Mussina deep into counts.
The got a two-out single and stolen base from Glanville in the second, a two-out double by Lieberthal and a walk to Pat Burrell in the third, another two-out single and stolen base by Glanville in the fourth and a two-out double by Lieberthal in the fifth. On each occasion, Mussina weathered the storm.
Needing a big out, he kept the ball in the infield every time. One grounder. One line drive. One strikeout. One pop-up.
"I had to pitch well out of the stretch or I was going to get beat," Mussina said. "If I had discarded what didn't work in the first inning, I'd have had nothing at all to throw for the rest of the game."
Opponent: Philadelphia Phillies
Site: Veterans Stadium Philadelphia
TV/Radio: Chs. 13, 50/ WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Jose Mercedes (3-3, 5.40) vs Phillies' Andy Ashby (3-7, 6.08)