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O's set for 'strange' Mussina reunion


Orioles bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks developed a tradition with pitcher Mike Mussina where he'd catch the staff ace before every start. They joked about keeping it up this weekend, though there's no chance of that happening. Not with Mussina starting today for the New York Yankees in perhaps the most widely anticipated game at Camden Yards this season.

"His first day in [on Thursday], we were walking together and he said, 'Just for old times sake, come and catch me.' I said, 'Get out of here.' He started laughing," Hendricks said.

How light will the mood be when Mussina steps on the mound wearing the Yankees' road gray?

He's expecting a mixed reaction, with some fans unwilling to forgive him for leaving as a free agent. Others place the blame within the confines of the warehouse, where ownership failed to get a deal done and lost one of the greatest pitchers in franchise history to a hated rival.

"It's going to be a little strange seeing him in another uniform," said Cal Ripken, "but I think [the fans] will react positively. He was a big part of our team. This doesn't change what he did here.

"I certainly hope people will embrace him. That would be nice. It would say a lot about the people here, that they remember what he meant to us and who he is."

"If they cheer," said reliever Mike Trombley, "it's because they appreciate what he's done. If they boo, it's because they wish he was still here. It's nothing personal against him."

Hendricks always believed the right-hander would remain in Baltimore. "I got home and my son said, 'Moose signed with the Yankees.' I said, 'No he didn't.' It felt like all the blood left my body," Hendricks recalled.

"Deep down inside, he really wanted to end his career here."

Manager Mike Hargrove had his first opportunity to speak with Mussina during batting practice before Friday's game. They shook hands and chatted briefly.

"I'm certainly like a lot of people. I'd rather he was pitching for us than against us, but the reality of the situation is he's not," Hargrove said. "I wish him all the luck in the world every day except [today]. ... It will be strange for all of us."

Hairston's bat on roll

When Jerry Hairston's fourth-inning line drive touched down in left field, the Orioles scored their second run and Hairston added another game to his hitting streak. It's increased to seven.

Hairston hasn't been milking it, either. He's collected 12 hits in his last 20 at-bats, including two yesterday to go with a walk. Hairston was batting .165 on April 28, but has lifted his average to .253.

"It's one of those things where I've been trying to stay back and trust my hands, like any other hitter. Get a good pitch to hit," he said.

The bigger the pitcher's reputation, the better Hairston swings. He collected two hits off Boston's Pedro Martinez on Opening Day, and had three against the Yankees' Roger Clemens on Friday. Combined Cy Young Awards: eight.

"Personally, that's a great, great challenge to face those guys. I respect both of them," he said. "My father faced [Clemens] numerous times and said he hit him pretty well. I want to make it a family thing."

Slumping Anderson sits

Coming off an 0-for-5 night that left him 4-for-21 on the homestand, Brady Anderson remained on the bench yesterday while Eugene Kingsale received his first start since being called up from Triple-A Rochester on Thursday.

Kingsale played center field and Chris Richard moved to right, where Anderson had made 24 starts.

Anderson's average is down to .183. Hargrove chose to rest him yesterday even though the outfielder's a lifetime .304 hitter against Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte.

"It's time to give him a day off," Hargrove said. "Certainly, Brady's a better hitter than that. He knows it and we know it. I think Brady's swinging at good pitches. There are times, and this is not unique to Brady, when all hitters will be too aggressive and maybe swing a little out of control. But for the most part I think Brady's taking good cuts in good hitter's counts."

Hargrove recalled a period in his playing career, after San Diego traded him to Cleveland in June 1979, when he was hitting .070 after 100 at-bats with the Indians. He ended up batting .325.

"That 13-for-15 I had really, really helped," he said. "That's the one thing Dave Garcia, my manager, kept telling me [during the slump]. He'd say, 'Mike, the cream always rises to the top.' I was like, 'Yeah, but how tall is this glass?' "

Bullpen of starters

No longer in the rotation after five starts, left-hander Chuck McElroy replaced Willis Roberts to begin the eighth inning and was charged with a run. He got one out before Jose Mercedes, in the equivalent of a side session, entered with two runners on base in his first relief appearance of the season. A two-out single by Scott Brosius increased the Yankees' lead to 5-2.

Sidney Ponson is ready to come off the disabled list and will start Wednesday at Tampa Bay -- a turn that otherwise would have been taken by McElroy. Ponson tossed four scoreless innings in Friday's rehab start at Bowie.

"I got three different reports. One said he threw 41 pitches, one said 40 and one said 42. So he threw around 40 pitches," Hargrove said.

Around the horn

A plane flew over the ballpark yesterday with a banner that read: "Hey N.Y., a reminder: Ravens 34, Giants 7."... Until Derek Jeter did it yesterday, the Yankees hadn't gotten a straight steal of home since May 29, 1993, by Gerald Williams. They've swiped at least one base in 16 consecutive games. ... Tino Martinez has a 10-game hitting streak. ... Joe Torre earned his 1,399th career win, tying him with Wilbert Robinson for 22nd place on the all-time managerial list.

Orioles today

Opponent: New York Yankees

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 1:35 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Yankees' Mike Mussina (2-3, 3.73) vs. Orioles' Jason Johnson (2-2, 3.86)

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