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Orioles' Mussina Is Almost Perfect

Washington Post
Saturday, May 31, 1997

BALTIMORE, May 30—Mike Mussina has almost always made the difficult look easy and the easy look routine. Tonight, he almost made the nearly impossible seem probable.

Mussina was two outs away from the 13th perfect game in major league history after retiring the first 25 Cleveland Indians in order, after allowing just three balls to leave the infield and after giving up nothing close to a hit. He was throwing 94 mph heat in the ninth inning, stuff so good that his grizzled pitching coach would later call it one of the most dominant performances ever.

That's when the historic became the heartbreaking. Indians catcher Sandy Alomar lined a high fastball into left field for the first and only hit Mussina would allow in a brilliant 3-0 victory in front of a roaring crowd of 47,759 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Alomar spoiled a night when Mussina had been in complete control from the beginning. He entered the ninth inning having retired 24 straight Indians, having thrown just 97 pitches and having thrown first strikes to 17 opposing hitters.

"If it had happened, I don't know what I would have done," Mussina said. "It was about as individual as baseball gets. Baseball is a team sport, but this was about an individual thing in the ninth. It was great to see the fans cheering right up to the roof."

Alomar, the brother of Orioles second baseman Roberto Alomar, said: "He didn't make many mistakes. I just happened to get hold of one. He was great."

It was not the kind of no-hitter that was going to be saved by a great play because none had been required. Then, after opening the ninth by getting Tony Fernandez on a ground out, Mussina made his first and only mistake.

Well, not really a mistake. He had wanted a fastball high and on Alomar's hands. That's exactly where he got it, but Alomar got his bat around and lined the ball to left field.

Mussina reacted with a quick half-smile, then looked down in disappointment for just a moment. He recovered nicely by striking out by pinch hitter Brian Giles and leadoff man Marquis Grissom to end the game.

The crowd that had given Mussina a standing ovation to open the ninth gave him another after the hit and still another after the ninth inning ended. Center fielder Brady Anderson, who scored a run and got two hits, got a standing ovation when he jogged into left-center to catch David Justice's fly ball.

Justice made the second out in the ninth, but he got just the fourth ball out of the infield—excluding Alomar's hit.

Mussina reacted to Grissom's strikeout by pumping his fist, then accepting the congratulations of his teammates, managers and coaches. Mussina (7-1) did get the second one-hitter of his career and the 32nd in history for the Orioles. He had struck out 10, walked none, gotten 11 of his 27 outs on grounders, one on an infield pop, one on a foul pop and four on fly balls to the outfield.

"That would have been the most dominant no-hitter in history," Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller said. "There wasn't even a great play behind him. You never see a no-hitter without someone making a diving catch or something like that."

Mussina helped the Orioles (35-15) to their best 50-game start in history and boosted their lead over the New York Yankees in the American League East to a whopping 8 1/2 games. He had defeated Cleveland ace Charles Nagy (6-3), who allowed just one earned run in seven innings.

But he had not gotten his history.

"The whole time I was just amazed to be in that situation," Mussina said of the ninth inning. "I hadn't had anything like that happen in 15 years. It was really fun. The crowd was into every pitch and every out."

In his attempt to throw the sixth no-hitter in Orioles' history, he instead became the 10th pitcher to have his no-hitter broken up in the ninth.

The Orioles got Mussina a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Brady Anderson led off the game with a double into the right-field corner and went to third when Roberto Alomar pushed a bunt single down the first-base line.

Palmeiro got Anderson home by looping an RBI single into right field. Ripken got Alomar and Palmeiro into scoring position with a grounder back to Nagy, and B.J. Surhoff was walked intentionally to load the bases. The Orioles couldn't deliver anything else. Nagy struck out Pete Incaviglia on a low curveball, then got Tony Tarasco to take a third strike fastball.

In the third, the Orioles made it 2-0 when Alomar beat out an infield single and went to second on second baseman Tony Fernandez's throwing error. Palmeiro moved Alomar to third with a grounder to the right side, and Ripken got him home with a grounder to shortstop Omar Vizquel.

The ball bounced off the mound, right to Vizquel. But his throw was high and wide, and Alomar slid home safely. The Orioles left the bases loaded in the fifth when Nagy got Tarasco on a fly to center to end the inning. But in the sixth, the Orioles got another run in to make it 3-0.

Chris Hoiles led off with an infield single and went to second on Vizquel's throwing error. Mike Bordick got him to third with a grounder to the right side, and Anderson bounced a single off the mound and into center field to make it 3-0.

Anderson stole second and went to third on Alomar's ground-out, but stayed there when Nagy got Ripken to pop out to first baseman Jim Thome. By then, it was Mussina's show.


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