Except for the Rocker madness, Albert Belle perfectly working a hit-and-run and the Atlanta Braves importing some of their National League chaos along with Greg Maddux, the Orioles' second half began last night the same way as their first: a three-run loss at home behind Mike Mussina.
A game that moved back and forth for six innings fell atop the Orioles late when Bobby Bonilla singled in the seventh inning for a 4-3 lead and Mussina endured a messy two-run ninth as the Orioles lost, 6-3.
Mussina earned a complete game for his 125 pitches, while Maddux (11-3) earned the win for 96 in seven innings. Scott Kamieniecki earned a save, completing the old gang theme.
After losing a 1-0 lead and a 3-3 tie, Mussina tumbled late. The ninth inning wrought all kinds of weirdness, beginning with Mussina (6-8) allowing two runs thanks in part to a hit batter, two stolen bases and a squeeze bunt, which he fumbled for his second error since 1995.
John Rocker then entered to the predictable hail of boos and profanity and responded with a four-pitch walk of Will Clark that caused manager Bobby Cox to hook him in favor of former Oriole Kamieniecki.
The matchup of aces was enough to refill the upper deck inside the left-field foul pole. Neither starter worked brilliantly, but both reminded a sellout crowd of 47,284 how stirring the game can be when controlled by pitching rather than unabated offense.
Beginning with Harold Baines' second-inning double that cleared Braves center fielder Andruw Jones to score the Orioles' first run, the game was one of back and forth.
The Braves came after Mussina in the fourth inning on second glance. Andruw Jones ruined Mussina's 10-hitter run of perfection by lining a double to left field. Chipper Jones then walked to bring up Milford Mill alumnus Brian Jordan. In his first at-bat ever at Camden Yards, Jordan doubled off the top of the right-field scoreboard, scoring Andruw Jones as Belle scrambled for a ricochet that bounced past him. The Orioles received a temporary reprieve when Chipper Jones was held at third despite Belle's throw going behind the runner.
Mussina couldn't staunch the inning. Andres Galarraga topped a grounder to third base, giving Jeff Conine no play except to first base as a second run scored.
Mussina had allowed two earned runs or fewer in nine of his past 10 starts. The Braves completed their second-rally when designated hitter Wally Joyner looped an RBI single over shortstop.
The three-run rally was only the second against Mussina in his past 91 1/3 innings and put the Orioles in an untenable position against Maddux, perhaps the game's best at crisis management.
But if the Braves' three-run fourth was uncharacteristic, so was Maddux's invitation for the Orioles to rejoin the game
Showing why he had lost only once since May 20, Mussina performed a lockdown after trailing. Maddux, meanwhile, was hurt by Brady Anderson's fifth-inning leadoff single and a one-out walk of Delino DeShields.
Belle came to the plate in a 7-for-41 funk and quickly fell behind, 0-2. Mike Hargrove gambled by starting both runners and Belle made the move work when he lined a single through the vacated hole at second base to score Anderson and bump DeShields to third. B.J. Surhoff tied the game on a roller too slow for the Braves' middle infield to turn into a double play.
Mussina allowed only one of eight leadoff hitters to reach base and it ended up costing him severely in the seventh inning. Galarraga's single mushroomed when he took second on a right-side ground ball and scored on Bonilla's single to right field.
The game also marked the return of third baseman Cal Ripken to the dugout, if not the active roster. Ripken received treatment before the game but deferred any comment until at least today.
While the world was watching the All-Star Game, the Orioles were busy signing Dave Hollins, a former Philadelphia Phillies, Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners and Anaheim Angels third baseman to a minor-league contract. Hollins, 34, batted .174 for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' Triple-A Durham affiliate. Hollins last received 100 at-bats in a season with Anaheim in 1998. He has since been signed three times as a minor-league free agent without reaching the major leagues.
Hollins' acquisition suggests that Ryan Minor will remain with the Orioles for an extended period. Minor remains sidelined by a strained muscle near his rib cage and has now missed 10 games over 14 days, effectively leaving Hargrove's bench a man short while the club failed to disabled Minor.
Hargrove reiterated yesterday he is committed to allotting playing time to younger players such as Minor, outfielder Luis Matos and possible second baseman Jerry Hairston after he proves himself recovered from shoulder surgery at Rochester.
Hargrove said the team's direction for the season has "pretty much been decided."
Though Hargrove later softened the statement, vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift continues to seek deals for several veterans, particularly catcher Charles Johnson.