Mussina Pitches Mariners Overboard
By Mark Maske
BALTIMORE, Oct. 5 They had to beat the law of averages as well as baseball's most imposing pitcher, but the Baltimore Orioles did it one more time. They made it five for five against Randy Johnson in 1997 and advanced to the American League Championship Series for a second consecutive year by riding the masterful pitching of Mike Mussina to a 3-1 vcitory over Johnson and the Seattle Mariners today before 48,766 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"Certain years, strange things happen. It's possible this might be the year of the Orioles," Orioles Manager Davey Johnson said. "If someone had told me we'll go against Randy Johnson five times and won't lose any of the games, I'd have said they're crazy. We just rise to the occasion."
The Orioles beat the Mariners, 3-1, in this best-of-five first-round playoff series and are scheduled to meet the New York Yankees or the Cleveland Indians in the best-of-seven ALCS beginning here Wednesday.
This time, Randy Johnson pitched well. The Orioles, who got home runs from Jeff Reboulet and Geronimo Berroa, forced him to rely on his slider instead of his blazing fastball, but he made the adjustment and limited Baltimore to seven hits over eight innings. The 6-foot-10 left-hander walked two and struck out 13.
"He pitched his heart out," Mariners Manager Lou Piniella said. "He pitched like a champion."
Still, Johnson lost for the second time in this series and fell to 0-4 in five starts against the Orioles this year. The Orioles won all five games. Reboulet got things going for them today with a one-out home run in the bottom of the first, and the Orioles added another run in the inning on Berroa's double and Cal Ripken's RBI single. Berroa provided a home run with two outs in the fifth. Even Roberto Alomar one of the notable subtractions from the Orioles' tailored-for-Randy-Johnson batting order got into the act with an eighth-inning single after entering the game as a defensive replacement.
"I pitched my butt off," Randy Johnson said. "I got beat. ... I pitched as good a game as I have all year. Mike pitched better. Tip your hat to the Baltimore Orioles. Their pitching was much better."
Like Johnson, Mussina pitched on three days' rest. He surrendered only two hits and one run over seven innings, becoming the first Orioles pitcher ever to get two victories as a starter in the same postseason series. Seattle got a leadoff home run from Edgar Martinez in the second inning, but Mussina didn't permit another runner to reach third base. He walked three and struck out seven.
"Mike rose to the occasion," Davey Johnson said. "He pitched an outstanding game. He gave me all he had. ... I think everybody can put to rest that talk I used to hear about how he can't pitch a big game. He pitches nothing but big games."
Reliever Armando Benitez replaced Mussina in the eighth inning and issued a leadoff walk to pinch hitter Rick Wilkins, but got Ken Griffey Jr. who went 0 for 4 today and 2 for 15 with no homers and two RBI in the series to ground out on a dribbler to Ripken at third base to end the inning.
Closer Randy Myers got the final three outs in the ninth for the save, striking out Martinez and pinch hitter Roberto Kelly and getting Jay Buhner to ground out to shortstop Mike Bordick. The Orioles didn't really celebrate their AL East title, but they celebrated this win heartily on the field and in a champagne-soaked clubhouse.
"It's satisfying," Mussina said. "But it's only one step. We have more work to do."
The Orioles were successful all year in tiring Randy Johnson by making him throw a lot of pitches, and Johnson labored through 35 pitches in the first inning today.
After Anderson struck out on a slider, up stepped Reboulet. The second baseman had only 13 regular season home runs in his six years in the major leagues. But he is a .314 career hitter against Johnson during the regular season, and he contributed a key two-strike bunt in Game 1. This time, Johnson seemed to believe that he had a strikeout with a slider on or near the outside corner of the plate on a 2-2 count. Home plate umpire Dale Scott didn't agree. Reboulet got a low-and-inside fastball on the full count and yanked it over the left field fence. Johnson glared at Scott as Reboulet rounded the bases.
"I just put the bat on the ball, and let Randy's speed do the rest," said Reboulet, who acknowledged that the 2-2 pitch "could've been" a strike.
The Orioles weren't done, though. Berroa worked the count to 2-0 and drilled a fastball measured at 96 mph on the Camden Yards radar gun the opposite way into the gap in right-center field for a double. Eric Davis struck out on a slider, but Ripken followed with a tremendous bit of hitting to give the Orioles a two-run lead. Johnson attempted to get a fastball inside, but Ripken pulled his hands in toward his body and fought off the 97-mph pitch, sending an opposite-field line drive to right for a base hit that scored Berroa.
With two outs in the fifth, Berroa got a slider that he could handle on a 1-0 count and pulled a line drive over the left field wall.
Mussina, meanwhile, was coasting along.
Alex Rodriguez hit the ball hard in the first inning, but his one-out drive to left field landed in Jeffrey Hammonds's glove. Martinez led off the second by pulling a drive over the left field wall, but that was all the Mariners got during an inning in which they could have had more. Paul Sorrento drew a walk following Martinez's home run. Buhner struck out. But Rob Ducey dumped a soft base hit in front of Anderson in center field, and the Mariners had a first-and-second, one-out chance.
Mussina toughened, however. He got Brent Gates to fly out to Hammonds and got Dan Wilson to bounce to Bordick for an inning-ending forceout. Mussina struck out the side in the third and survived a two-out walk to Buhner in the fourth. He made a spectacular catch of Gates's leadoff line drive through the middle to keep himself out of trouble in the fifth, and Hammonds provided a diving grab of Rodriguez's popup to short left-center field to open the sixth. Mussina issued a one-out walk to Buhner in the seventh but retired Ducey and Gates on ground balls.
Mussina doesn't usually like to pitch on three days' rest, but he wasn't complaining.
"The situation today was different," Mussina said. "This was a one-time deal. You can let it all hang out."
Now he can look forward to his next start, Saturday in Game 3 of the ALCS.
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