Aug. 5, 1998
Mike Mussina had been down this road before, chasing perfection into the late innings. He made another exhausting run last night. Out of breath at the end, the Orioles' ace also was out of luck.
Bothered in his last start by a tight hamstring, Mussina clamped down on the Detroit Tigers, retiring the first 23 batters before a two-out double by rookie Frank Catalanotto in the eighth inning assured that the Orioles' 4-0 win would stay out of the record books. Twice forced to the disabled list in a stop-and-start season, Mussina struck out Gabe Alvarez and walked off to another in a long line of standing ovations from a crowd of 47,519 at Camden Yards, then allowed a one-out single to Deivi Cruz in the ninth before completing his second two-hitter this year and the third of his career.
Catalanotto, recalled from Triple-A Toledo on July 23, lined a first-pitch slider down the right-field line. Mussina turned to watch the ball, then trotted toward third, never reacting to another missed opportunity. Third baseman Cal Ripken pounded his fist in his glove as if to join in the applause as Mussina returned to the mound.
The victory was the Orioles' 19th in 24 games since the break and drew them within 9 of the wild card, pending the outcome of Boston's late game in Seattle. It also brought reminders of Mussina's May 30 start against Cleveland last year, when Sandy Alomar broke up his perfect game with one out in the ninth inning. "Everybody thinks when you do something like this, it's disappointing. I don't know why everybody feels that way," said Mussina, who struck out eight and threw 93 pitches. "No-hitters and perfect games are unique situations, so if you're disappointed by it, that's the wrong way to look at it."
Last night also featured another home run by Eric Davis, his 22nd this season, in the fourth inning. His hitting streak has reached 21 games, the sixth longest by an Oriole.
Like everyone else, he'd have to accept second-billing behind Mussina (10-5), who was trying to record the first perfect game in Orioles history. He settled for remaining unbeaten in six starts since the All-Star break.
Because of Monday's off-day, Mussina was working on five days' rest. His last start had come Wednesday at Tiger Stadium, when he limited Detroit to one run over six innings despite discomfort in the leg that lessened the longer he threw.
The time off sure didn't hurt. Neither did countless delays that included three ejections.
Tigers manager Buddy Bell was tossed by plate umpire John Hirschbeck in the sixth inning for arguing a called strike on Gabe Alvarez. Mussina struck out Alvarez on the next pitch, then had to wait again while outfielder Bobby Higginson came out to argue his ejection by second-base umpire Rich Garcia as the griping in the Tigers' dugout continued. Mussina struck out Paul Bako looking, then got Cruz swinging to end the inning. Moose calls filled the ballpark as Mussina calmly strode to the dugout.
"He threw me a cutter inside which surprised me a little bit," Catalanotto said. "I'm pretty much looking away there because that's where he's been going for all his strikes. I just reacted and was able to put it in play. You had to be aggressive on him early in the count because after that, he was going to go off the plate and get his strikes."
The Tigers had some early chances to get Mussina, but his defense wouldn't allow it. Second baseman Roberto Alomar, just activated from the disabled list, leaped to grab a liner from Higginson to end the first inning. Center fielder Brady Anderson made a leaping catch at the fence to rob Tony Clark of an extra-base hit leading off the second. In the third, Ripken dived to his left to snatch a grounder from Alvarez and get the out at first base, and Cruz lined to shortstop Mike Bordick. The Orioles didn't have much of a track record against Tigers pitcher Bryce Florie, whose previous four seasons in San Diego and Milwaukee were spent mostly in the bullpen. He had made 133 relief appearances before given his first career start July 21, 1997. Last night's start was only his seventh this year.
The memory of Florie for most of the Orioles consisted of only a handful of at-bats. Two of the most successful hitters against him, Rich Becker and Jeff Reboulet (both 2-for-3), weren't in the lineup.
They weren't needed. The Orioles adapted just fine, getting three hits in the second inning for a 1-0 lead that looked much larger with Mussina pitching. Rafael Palmeiro led off with a single. Running on on a 2-1 pitch, he took third on a single up the middle by Harold Baines, who also had been activated from the disabled list earlier in the day. Palmeiro scored when B.J. Surhoff bounced into a double play.
Davis launched his homer into the Orioles' bullpen leading off the fourth. Center fielder Brian Hunter sprinted to the fence and reached over it, hanging for a few seconds before touching down with an empty glove.
Florie was removed in the sixth with two outs and Alomar on first. Reliever Sean Runyan hit Palmeiro and allowed a pinch single by Jeffrey Hammonds for a 3-0 lead. Determined to avoid another trip to the disabled list, Hammonds also singled in the eighth inning for his fifth hit in six at-bats.
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