The decision was there for Baltimore Orioles Manager Ray Miller, and no one envied his position: Ken Griffey Jr. at the plate, two on, two out, one-run Orioles lead, eighth inning. Mike Mussina on the mound, having thrown 120 pitches. Jesse Orosco ready in the bullpen. What to do?
Miller stayed with Mussina. And in a classic at-bat pitting two of baseball's best against each other with the game on the line, Griffey drove a 1-2 pitch into left-center for a two-run double, leading the Seattle Mariners to a 4-2 victory in front of 21,651 at the Kingdome.
"I gave my number one starter a chance to win the ballgame," Miller said. "He gave us everything he had tonight. He pitched a heck of a game and I think he had the right to try to win the ballgame. If I bring somebody else in and he doesn't get [Griffey] out I feel like I cheated him."
The loss ended the Orioles' road trip at a disappointing 4-5, and dropped their major league-worst road record this season to 8-20.
Griffey came into the game hitting .139 in his career against Mussina. But his double took the Mariners from one run down to one run ahead. Butch Huskey added an RBI single for an insurance run.
Mussina (7-3) threw 133 pitches in a valiant effort, but lost for the second straight start. The Orioles have scored a total of three runs in those losses.
They put the tying runs on base with one out in the top of the ninth against Mariners closer Jose Mesa, but Brady Anderson popped out and Mike Bordick flied out.
Mariners left-hander John Halama kept the Orioles twitching and lunging at his off-speed, junk-ball pitches, and the Orioles helped him by running themselves out of big innings on the base paths. The Orioles got 11 hits off Halama, but they stranded six runners in the first seven innings, and also had one runner thrown out at the plate, one thrown out at third (Jeff Conine on a botched double-steal) and a runner picked off first.
The Orioles went on top in the third when B.J. Surhoff singled in Anderson from second, and added another run in the sixth when Rich Amaral singled in Conine. Seattle catcher Dan Wilson whiffed on a good throw from right fielder John Mabry that appeared to have Anderson beat at the plate.
Mussina had already won a 1-0 game this season and lost a 2-1 decision in his previous start, and had the same type of game on his hands tonight.
Mussina benefited from three double plays in the first five innings, and did not allow a base runner to reach second until Wilson homered to right-center to lead off the sixth.
Mussina, a three-time Gold Glove winner, also was charged with his first error since Aug. 8, 1995 on a disputed play at first base in the sixth. On a grounder by Mabry to first baseman Conine, Mussina covered first dutifully. But first-base umpire Michael Reilly claimed Mussina missed the bag, although replays indicated otherwise.