- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 25, 2000

CHICAGO Instead of fielding gloves and baseball bats, the Baltimore Orioles could have used calling cards and a Rolodex because they phoned this one in last night.

The Orioles looked every bit the team that was playing in its third time zone in five days and had arrived in town just as the Windy City was going to work yesterday morning, as they sleepwalked through an 8-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox on a cold and windy night before 15,461 at Comiskey Park.

The only positive was that with the New York Yankees falling to the Twins, the Orioles (11-7) still remained just one game back of first place in the American League East.

After playing at home Thursday, the Orioles played a three-game series in Oakland over the weekend but their flight leaving the Bay area was delayed Sunday night and they didn't arrive at their Chicago hotel until 6 a.m. local time yesterday morning, resulting in their listlessness.

"I'm sure it had an effect," Orioles starter Mike Mussina said of the Orioles' travel-induced fatigue. "We've been through a tough 24 hours… . I felt tired; I think we all felt tired… . I didn't pitch well and we didn't play well."

The Orioles managed all of two hits and at one point were retired 14 straight times by White Sox starter Cal Eldred, who fanned 11. When the Orioles weren't looking at called strikes, they were swinging at first pitches, lopping innocent fly balls into the outfield or weakly grounding out. This from a team which entered the game with a .301 batting average.

"You don't want to use being tired as an excuse," said Orioles outfielder Brady Anderson. "It didn't help but even if we were rested, Eldred would have been tough to hit tonight. He throws the ball hard and [his pitches] carry and finish strong. That lets him throw the ball high in the strike zone and still make it tough to hit."

Coming into the game, the only American League team swinging a hotter bat than the Orioles were the White Sox (13-6), who are in first place in the AL Central thanks mainly to a .313 batting average that resulted in them scoring a league-best 7.66 runs per game.

Mussina figured to be a good test for the free-swingers from Chicago's South Side but the White Sox easily aced the exam, lighting up Mussina for seven runs on eight hits and three walks in 6 and 1/3 innings.

The Orioles entered the game averaging 6.41 runs per outing but once again failed to produce much offense for their ace. In the five games that Mussina has started this year, the Orioles have totaled 13 runs and four of them have come after Mussina had left the game.

Mussina is still the Orioles best pitcher but he hasn't been the consistently dominant pitcher he was the past few years when he was among the best hurlers in the American League. He fell to 0-2 with and upped his ERA to 4.50, ahead of only fifth starter Jose Mercedes in the Orioles rotation.

"This is probably the toughest streak I've been on in my career," said Mussina, who is negotiating with the Orioles for a new contract; he has turned down a five-year $60 million offer. "I've got to keep fighting and working hard and hope things turn around."

The Orioles actually gave Mussina an early lead when Anderson began the game with a walk and scored on a double by Delino DeShields. But Mussina gave the run back in the bottom of the first by serving up a solo blast to John Valentin.

Things got much worse in the second. Paul Konerko walked and when Chris Singleton followed by grounding to Mike Bordick, the Orioles shortstop tried unsuccessfully to tag Konerko out at second rather than throw out Singleton.

A Greg Norton single scored Konerko to make it 2-1 but the real damage was done when the next batter, Josh Paul, smacked his first homer of the season to make it 5-1.

The Orioles got one back in the sixth on Charles Johnson's team-leading sixth homer of the season but didn't get another hit as Eldred retired the final 12.

The White Sox added two more off Mussina in the seventh then touched up struggling reliever Chuck McElroy for a solo homer by Norton in the eighth.

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