ANAHEIM, Calif. - A shrug and sloped shoulders have become his constant companions.
The cynicism that has followed Mike Mussina this season once more could not be shaken last night at Edison International Field, where he and the Orioles suffered a 2-1 loss to the pitching-thin Anaheim Angels.
Mussina allowed five hits and three walks in his sixth complete game. The Angels employed emergency starter Al Levine, who lasted four innings before yielding to five relievers.
Given the combination against a team owned by Disney, one might have thought Mussina (9-14) might realize the fantasy of an easy win. But if this is 2000, it must still be Never-Never Land.
One day after Mussina watched the Orioles batter the Angels for 10 runs in support of Jose Mercedes, he again saw scoring chances evaporate because of poor clutch hitting.
The Orioles placed their leadoff hitter on in each of the first three innings only to leave four runners in scoring position and see Brady Anderson thrown out stealing. The Orioles failed in five at-bats with runners in scoring position through three innings and could not exploit an opportunity to turn the game during a one-run seventh.
Mussina no longer curses his fate. "I'm past that," he said. "I got past that awhile ago." A fatalism has taken its place. Mussina's six complete games include four losses.
Last night's game-losing play came in the seventh inning when Adam Kennedy followed Bengie Molina's single with an RBI double. The loss also guaranteed the Orioles will lose the season series to the Angels for the first time since 1988. Now 64-78, they need at least a 9-11 finish to avoid their first 90-loss season since 1991.
Designated hitter Jeff Conine came within several feet of a home run in the sixth inning, and Brook Fordyce smacked an opposite-field fly ball to the warning track in the eighth. Otherwise, there was little hint of power in a starting lineup that brought only 60 home runs into the game.
Conine saw Kevin Brown endure non-support similar to Mussina with the Florida Marlins in 1997. However, Brown could soothe himself with 17 wins and a world championship. Conine looks at Mussina and sees 15 wins ... "easy," he said.
Mussina must console himself within a fourth-place season in which talks for a contract extension have reached an impasse.
"I don't see any difference from last year," Conine said, referring to Mussina's 18 wins and 3.50 ERA. "He's pitching effectively every time he goes out, pretty much. If we had something for him, his record would probably be completely reversed."
Said Mussina: "In some ways I think I've pitched better. It's a lot more difficult to be consistent when you're constantly in games that are 1-0 and 1-1 and going seven or eight innings than when you're in games that are 7-1, 7-2, 8-1. I've been in a lot of games this year that have been 1-1, 2-2, 0-0. A lot."
Conine can't explain the missing offense.
"I don't think it gets to the stage of being a conscious thing, especially with the turnover we've had," he said. "I don't think three-quarters of the guys know about our lack of run support for him, so it's not on their mind. You try not to change your game."
Once again Mussina dialed up a large performance at a time of team and negotiating intrigue. He threw a one-hitter at the Minnesota Twins on Aug. 1, the day after speaking out against trades that sent Mike Bordick to the New York Mets, Charles Johnson to the Chicago White Sox and B.J. Surhoff to the Atlanta Braves.
On Friday, Mussina categorized as unacceptable the club's modified six-year, $72 million contract offer. Mussina called it "the same thing" because no changes were made to the proposal's annual average value or percentage of money deferred at no interest.
Entering last night, the Orioles had averaged 3.4 runs in Mussina's first 30 starts and given him the league-worst run support of 3.69 runs per nine innings pitched. When Mussina isn't pitching, the Orioles average 5.4 runs per game, a number that would nearly allow Mussina's record to reverse itself.
Mussina's first stumble came in the fourth inning when Darin Erstad's leadoff single was magnified by a walk to Scott Spiezio. The extra base became huge when Mo Vaughn singled to center field.
The Orioles forced a 1-1 game in the seventh inning when Mark Lewis led off with a single, moved to third on Jerry Hairston's double and scored on Eugene Kingsale's slow-rolling grounder.
But even that rally brought frustration. Hairston reached third base with one out but went no further because left-hander Mike Holtz got Anderson to pop out and Shigetoshi Hasegawa forced a foulout from Melvin Mora.
Opponent: Anaheim Angels
Site: Edison International Field, Anaheim, Calif.
TV/Radio: Chs. 54, 50/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: O's Sidney Ponson (7-11, 5.26) vs. Angels' Scott Schoeneweis (7-7, 4.89)