Tuesday, April 4, 2000

BALTIMORE This was the kind of pitching performance the Baltimore Orioles can ill-afford to waste.

In their season opener yesterday the Orioles got a strong outing from Mike Mussina but, in a all-too-familiar scene, failed to provide their ace enough run support in a 4-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians before 46,902 at Camden Yards.

With an extremely shallow starting rotation, the club needs to take advantage of every good outing it gets to avoid a third straight losing season.

“Any time you get a pitcher who throws a game the way Mussina pitched today, you have to take advantage of it,” said manager Mike Hargrove, who lost his debut with the Orioles to the team he managed for 8 and 1/2 seasons. “You hate to see a performance like that slip by.”

With No. 2 pitcher Scott Erickson out until May because of elbow surgery, the rest of the Orioles’ rotation is composed of young, inexperienced pitchers and journeymen. By the time Mussina pitches again, the Orioles could be winless.

With that in mind, the Orioles were upset over squandering another fine outing by Mussina, the runner-up in last year’s American League Cy Young balloting.

Most of the game Mussina was brilliant. He hit the corners of the strike zone, changed speeds with all four of his pitches and got just enough movement on the ball to keep the potent Indians lineup confused.

But the Orioles failed to take advantage of the early control problems of Cleveland starter Bartolo Colon. Baltimore stranded five runners in the first two innings and mounted only one serious threat the rest of the afternoon.

“I really feel for Moose,” outfielder Brady Anderson said. “We’ve gotten him a lot of run support through the years, but we just didn’t get it for him today. But it just crushes you when he pitches the way he did today, and we don’t get him more runs. He deserved better.”

Through seven innings Mussina had allowed only two hits, but both ended up in the outfield seats. Travis Fryman, who entered the game with a career .333 average against Mussina, jacked a 2-0 pitch over the center-field wall in the third that made the score 1-1.

In the sixth inning, Kenny Lofton popped to deep left. In most ballparks Lofton would have flied out but in cozy Camden Yards, it sailed past left fielder B.J. Surhoff and landed two rows back to make it 2-1.

Even though he hadn’t gone further than six innings in spring training, Mussina took the hill in the eighth. He easily retired the first two batters but then gave up a pair of singles to Fryman and Sandy Alomar. Fryman’s bounced off the glove of shortstop Mike Bordick, and Alomar’s grazed the leather of second baseman Delino DeShields.

Lofton followed with a single to right that scored Fryman and ended Mussina’s day. Orioles reliever Mike Trombley allowed Alomar to score on a single by Omar Vizquel, and that closed the book on Mussina. He was charged with four runs on five hits and had no walks and four strikeouts in 7 and 2/3 innings.

The Orioles’ lone run came in the second inning when Will Clark scored on Anderson’s single to left. That made it 1-0, but the Orioles could have had more.

Cal Ripken began the inning with a Texas League double, and Clark followed with a walk. But Charles Johnson lined into a double play that erased Ripken. It proved costly as Colon continued to struggle.

Bordick and DeShields sandwiched walks around Anderson’s RBI single and loaded the bases for B.J. Surhoff. However, last year’s club MVP couldn’t come through and struck out to end the inning.

“It’s frustrating, but you have to tip your hat to the other guy on the mound,” Hargrove said. “Colon threw well to get out of that.”

Colon settled down after that and allowed only one more hit before departing after the fifth inning.

With the score 2-1, the Orioles had a chance to score in the seventh. Clark led off with a walk against former Orioles reliever Scott Kamieniecki, and one out later, Bordick singled.

With Clark running from second, Delino DeShields hit an apparent bloop single off Ricardo Rincon into left field. However, retreating shortstop Vizquel did his best imitation of wide receiver Randy Moss, leaping to make a horizontal, backhanded grab to preserve the Indians’ lead.

“That was a momentum killer,” Hargrove said. “That probably saved the game for them. It was a big momentum switch.”

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