The Baltimore Orioles returned home this morning after a nine-game West Coast road trip, with the taste of a bitter defeat Wednesday night fresh on their palates. Looking back, the difference between a could-have-been 6-3 road trip and the 4-5 mark the Orioles actually compiled was easy to discern: two crushing losses with their ace, Mike Mussina, on the mound.
Wednesday night's 4-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners was the toughest to take. Mussina was brilliant for seven innings, but gave up a two-run double to Ken Griffey Jr. with two outs in the eighth inning, followed by an RBI single by Butch Huskey.
Coupled with a 2-1 loss in Oakland last Friday night, Mussina's two losses -- in which the Orioles scored a total of three runs -- defined the disappointing road trip.
"We lost 2-1 and 4-2. That's some pretty good pitching, and we came away with nothing," said Manager Ray Miller. "That was the difference in the whole road trip."
Griffey's game-winning double, which turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 Mariners' lead, came on Mussina's 124th pitch, with left-hander Jesse Orosco ready in the Orioles' bullpen. It was the kind of decision no manager wants to face.
Griffey came into the game batting .139 against Mussina for his career, and .368 against Orosco. Griffey had lined out hard his previous at-bat against Mussina. Orosco had retired Griffey on a weak tapper to the mound in Tuesday night's victory. Miller did not second-guess himself.
"I gave my number one starter a chance to win the ballgame," Miller said. "He gave us everything he had tonight, and I wanted him to finish the inning. He pitched a hell of a game, and I think he deserved the right to try to win the game."
Miller's move, or lack thereof, also may have indicated a declining confidence in his bullpen. "If I bring somebody else in, and he doesn't get [Griffey] out," Miller said, "I'd feel like I cheated [Mussina]."
While Mussina (7-3) said he "appreciates" Miller's faith in him, he implied that his high pitch-count might have warranted bringing in Orosco.
"The game dictates everything -- how to pitch to certain guys, what moves to make, everything," Mussina said. "I didn't throw as well in the eighth as I did at any time before that, and that's understandable. When you get to 120 pitches, you have to say, `This is just about anybody's limit.' "
Had the Orioles (20-32) been able to score any runs for Mussina, the eighth inning showdown might have been a moot point. But the Orioles' offense, which has been known to squander runs this season, outdid itself against Mariners starter John Halama, a junk-ball lefty, and two relievers.
The Orioles stranded nine base runners, had one thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on a single, had another thrown out at third while creeping down the line on a botched double-steal and had a third picked off first base by Halama.
"Those [plays] could have been turning points," said shortstop Mike Bordick. "But we were being aggressive. I'd rather lose being aggressive than sit back and wait for something to happen, especially where we are right now."
Orioles Notes: Mussina was charged with his first error since Aug. 8, 1995, in the fifth inning Wednesday night, but it came on a disputed call.
Mussina, a three-time Gold Glove winner, was covering first base on a ground ball to first by Mariners right fielder John Mabry. But the play was slow in developing, and Mussina caught the toss from first baseman Jeff Conine as he was approaching the bag.
First base umpire Michael Reilly ruled that Mussina had missed the bag. Replays indicated Mussina had kicked the bag with the toe of his shoe, and Mussina and Miller both argued to no avail. . . .
Second baseman Delino DeShields, who left Tuesday night's game with a strained lower back and did not play Wednesday, was expected to undergo an MRI exam today in Baltimore. He said the injury was similar to the one that kept him out of one game last month. . . .
The Orioles claimed catcher Mike Figga on waivers from the Yankees. Figga will report to the Orioles and be added to the major league roster before Friday's game against Philadelphia, at which time an accompanying roster move will be made.
Figga was designated for assignment by New York on May 25, after appearing in only two games with the Yankees this season, entering defensively in both games of a doubleheader at Chicago on May 22. A right-handed hitter, he played one game last year and two games in 1997 for the Yankees, going 1 for 8. Last year at AAA Columbus, he batted .280 with 26 home runs and 95 RBI.
Special correspondent Seth Emerson contributed to this report.
Data: vs. Philadelphia Phillies, today at 7:35 p.m., Saturday at 7:05 p.m., Sunday at 1:35 p.m.
Ticket availability: Today, 1,700; Saturday, 1,600; Sunday, 500.
TV: WBDC-50, WJZ-13, today and Saturday; WBDC-50, WNUV-54, Sunday.
Radio: WTOP-1500, WBAL-1090, WTOP-FM-107.7, WMJS-FM-92.7.
Records: Orioles 20-32; Phillies 26-26.
Pitchers: Friday -- Orioles RHP Scott Erickson (1-7, 6.75) vs. Phillies RHP Chad Ogea (2-3, 4.50); Saturday -- RHP Sidney Ponson (5-4, 4.37) vs. RHP Carlton Loewer (2-5, 5.35); Sunday -- RHP Juan Guzman (2-4, 5.49) vs. RHP Robert Person (0-0, 8.38).
CAPTION: Cal Ripken strikes out against Mariners' John Halama Wednesday.