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Mussina can't carry O's

Oct 15, 1997

BALTIMORE (Oct 15, 1997 - 23:34 EDT) -- The shadows didn't help Mike Mussina, and neither did the Baltimore Orioles.

For the second straight game, Mussina broke strikeout records by overpowering the Cleveland Indians. And for the second straight time all he got was a no-decision in another one-run loss.

Sometimes baseball isn't fair. It sure wasn't to Mussina this October.

Mussina gave the Orioles all his right arm could give, but the Orioles couldn't provide him with a run as their season ended Wednesday in the ALCS with a 1-0 loss in 11 innings to the Cleveland Indians.

It wasn't supposed to end this way for the Orioles, who had the best record in the American League this season. They held off the New York Yankees to win the AL East and became just the third AL team to go wire-to-wire.

Baltimore then beat Seattle's Randy Johnson twice in the opening round to advance to the ALCS for the second straight year. There they got the most dominant pitching performance in history, outscored the Indians 19-18 -- and still lost.

Blame it on magic, fate or bad luck.

"I'll think about this for quite awhile," said manager Davey Johnson. "This is a tough loss. This whole series I didn't think we caught many breaks. ... We're champions in my eyes."

Mussina's two-game performance was unlike any seen in postseason history. His linescore has everything but two Ws attached to it. He allowed just one run and four hits in 15 innings with 25 strikeouts and a 0.60 ERA. And in Games 3 and 6 he erased names like Koufax, Gibson and Gooden from the postseason record book.

After getting a no-decision and loss in last year's playoffs, there were some who wondered about Mussina's ability to deliver in the clutch. There's no doubt now.

"The next person who questions Mike Mussina's ability to pitch a big game," said Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller, "is going to be in a fight with me."

Unfortunately for the 28-year-old, his teammates didn't score a single run for him. They stranded 14 runners in Game 6, including 12 while Mussina was still in the game.

"If we played 20 innings we might not have scored," Mussina said.

Mussina's combined numbers against the Seattle Mariners and Indians are mind-blowing. In four starts, he gave up just 12 hits in 29 innings and finished with a 1.24 ERA.

And although Marquis Grissom was awarded series MVP, there wasn't a better player on the field than Mussina.

"I'm not disappointed for him," said Brady Anderson. "I feel great for him. He proved he's truly a great pitcher. I'm glad everyone got a chance to see him. He was awesome."

Much of the pregame talk before Wednesday had focused on the fact that with a late afternoon starting time, Mussina would again be pitching in the twilight. While pitching through the shadows at Jacobs Field on Saturday, Mussina set an ALCS record with 15 strikeouts.

Game 6, though, began under cloudy skies and the Indians figured to have a better chance against Mussina. However, he was just as nasty this time out despite pitching on just three days' rest.

"Mike was unbelievable," Johnson said. "He rose to the occasion on short rest."

He struck out two in the second and in the third he got Brian Giles looking before getting Grissom to swing through a fastball. That gave Mussina 19 strikeouts in the series, breaking the record of 18 by Toronto's Dave Steib in 1985.

In the fifth, Mussina fanned Matt Williams for his 36th postseason strikeout, eclipsing the previous mark shared by Bob Gibson (1968), Tom Seaver (1973) and Orel Hershiser (1995).

With two outs in the eighth, Grissom watched another strike three go by as Mussina closed out another spectacular outing with 10 strikeouts, giving him 41 in four starts.

"He was throwing the ball good," said Grissom. "He shut us down the whole game."

That strikeout also made Mussina just the third pitcher to strike out 10 or more batters in two games in the same series. He joined Sandy Koufax (1965) and Gibson (1967, '68) on that short list and the Orioles ended up on the short of end of a thrilling series.

"I look back at it as we were the best in the American League," said Johnson, "just like we were the best in 1969 when the Mets beat us. I feel the same thing happened this series."

Sometimes, baseball isn't fair.


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