Mussina returns to form vs. O's

The Baltimore Sun

NEW YORK -- A couple of key members of that plucky Orioles team that gave the New York Yankees fits for much of this season were nowhere to be seen at Yankee Stadium. Corey Patterson, who has hit .390 with seven steals against New York this season, was back in Baltimore yesterday to get his left ankle examined.

Erik Bedard, who went 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA and has a streak of 20 scoreless innings against the Yankees, was home in Ontario, resting a strained oblique. Fellow starter Jeremy Guthrie (1-0 in three starts against New York this season) has a similar injury and was confined to watching the game in the dugout with a fleece pullover covering his jersey.

What remains - a group of tired and frustrated veterans and a young and inexperienced pitching staff - has simply been overwhelmed facing a surging Yankees team that is playing with an urgency usually found in October. Jon Leicester matched a sharp Mike Mussina for three innings last night, until he imploded in the fourth, giving up six runs in the Yankees' 12-0 victory over the Orioles before an announced 52,685.

"When you give up runs and you get down early and have big innings [against you], it makes you look like you're sloppy," designated hitter Kevin Millar said. "You hear some guys saying, 'Oh, they're packing it in.' That's not the case."

The Yankees, who moved within 2 1/2 games of the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East, clinched their first series victory over the Orioles (64-86) in five tries this season and will go for the sweep tonight behind Andy Pettitte.

The Orioles need one win over their final four games against the Yankees to secure their first .500 or better season against them since 1997. However, with the way the Orioles are playing - and with the pitchers they are sending to the mound on a nightly basis - their chances don't look good.

Last night was the third time this month they've been beaten by 12 runs or more. It was also the third time they've been shut out in September after going the first five months of the season without being blanked.

"It's been a broken record," said Orioles manager Dave Trembley, whose team has won just six of its past 27 games. "I think everything revolves around starting pitching. I don't think there's any coincidence about what's happened. Look at the numbers. It's pitching."

The game was scoreless for three innings until six of the first seven Yankees to bat in the fourth reached base. Before the inning, the Yankees had only one hit against Leicester, the right-hander who had beaten the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels in his two previous starts.

Having surrendered a two-run double to Hideki Matsui and an RBI single to Robinson Cano, Leicester watched light-hitting Doug Mientkiewicz drive his 0-1 pitch just inside the foul pole and into the right-field seats. That gave the Yankees a 6-0 lead. After they added five more in the seventh off Fernando Cabrera and Rob Bell, Trembley and Yankees manager Joe Torre unloaded their benches.

"It happens quick," said Leicester, who was making just his fourth major league start. "It's kind of a couple of pitches here and there. I pitch to contact and they get one hit and it turns into two. You just need one or two balls to go at somebody."

Mussina, the former Orioles ace, didn't need much help, allowing just three hits and one walk in seven innings, while striking out six in his second consecutive scoreless outing. He pumped his fist and walked off the mound to a standing ovation and "MOOOOOSE" chants after striking out Aubrey Huff, his final hitter, to end the seventh.

Making his 500th career start and his second since being temporarily sent to the Yankees bullpen, Mussina didn't allow an Oriole to reach second base until there were two outs in the seventh. The Orioles' three hits tied their second-lowest total of the season.

"He was as good as he has been that I've seen in a few years," Millar said of Mussina. "His velocity was back up, his curveball was sharp, he was painting his pitches, he was getting calls off the plate for strikes. He was able to locate where he wanted to put the baseball. That's what made him tough tonight. Good pitching is going to stop good hitting, period. It's been tough. It's been frustrating."

Notes -- Daniel Cabrera began serving his six-game suspension last night after dropping his appeal. Cabrera, who was suspended for his actions after he threw a pitch behind the Boston Red Sox's Dustin Pedroia on Sept. 7 and nearly incited a bench-clearing brawl, is scheduled to start Monday. "I'll do my six days and get ready for my next start," Cabrera said. ... A magnetic resonance imaging taken yesterday on Patterson's left ankle revealed nothing but a sprain. He'll rejoin the team, but it remains unclear whether he'll return to the lineup. ... Danys Baez will get a second opinion on his right elbow from renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Friday. ... Trembley said his rotation for the Texas Rangers series will be Victor Zambrano, followed by Victor Santos, Radhames Liz and Leicester. ... Trembley said if Guthrie is not capable of throwing a full side session by Sunday, he'll be shut down for the season.

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