TORONTO Mike Mussina earned an economics degree in just three years from one of the best universities in the country so it takes a lot to confuse him. And yet the Baltimore Orioles’ ace finds himself in a perplexing position.
The Stanford graduate, considered one of the premier pitchers in baseball, is in one of the worst funks of his career and he doesn’t know why.
Mussina gave up six runs in seven innings last night, continuing a string of poor starts that has seen him begin the season 1-4 and raise his ERA to an unfamiliar 4.78 as the Orioles fell to the Toronto Blue Jays 6-4 before 15,177 at SkyDome.
“I don’t know. That’s my quote for the evening: I just don’t know,” said Mussina. “I thought it couldn’t get any worse than it was.”
What bothers Mussina the most is that he doesn’t know what to do to break his slump. He’s healthy, his velocity his fine, he’s able to change speeds and he hit his spots. Rarely has he fallen behind hitters.
If I could tell you what it was there’s no doubt I would do whatever I could to change it,” he said. “I’m as confused as I’ve ever been about pitching. I don’t know why it’s happening.”
Compounding Mussina’s problems is that the Orioles have had seven different pitching coaches in as many seasons. Mussina feels there’s no one in the organization who knows him well enough to help him get comfortable.
“I’m probably going to have to [figure it out] myself,” he said. “The only person whose been here the whole time is [Mike] Flanagan.”
Flanagan was the pitching coach in 1995 and again in 1998 but is now a broadcaster. Mussina said he would have no problem consulting someone other than pitching coach Sammy Ellis.
“This is my job. I have to do whatever I can to get better,” he said.
Mussina’s tendency to give up the home run has always been one of his weaknesses. So with the pitcher struggling to find his form this season and the Blue Jays leading the American League in home runs, what happened last night wasn’t surprising. Mussina served up four homers, accounting for five runs as the Blue Jays runs.
The Orioles (16-16) have lost six of their last seven and after a promising 11-5 start, find themselves at .500 for the first time since the second game of the season. They have been particularly bad on the road, going 5-12 away from cozy Camden Yards.
“We’re just not getting the key hits when we need them that we got earlier in the season,” Orioles first baseman Jeff Conine said of the team’s slide. “We’ve left some guys in scoring position.”
The loss also continues a terrible run of games for the Orioles against Toronto. After losing their last 10 to the Blue Jays (18-17) a year ago, the Orioles have dropped two more this season to run the streak to 12. The Orioles have also lost 13 straight at SkyDome.
The Orioles entered the game having allowed the fourth-highest total of home runs in the AL this season. That, coupled with the Blue Jays’ sluggers and the way the ball carries at SkyDome, proved to be a bad combination. Toronto entered the game having hit 62 homers in 34 games including 48 in their first 19 home games, a pace that would easily best the major league record of 149 for home runs at home set by Colorado in 1996.
Meanwhile, former Oriole David Wells allowed four runs and nine hits in eight innings but he avoided further damage by shutting down the top third of the order. Rich Amaral, Delino DeShields and B.J. Surhoff went a combined 1-for-12.
Still, Mussina felt the Orioles scoring output should have been enough for a win.
“We got four runs off David Wells,” he said, pointing the blame at himself. “We have to win when we get four runs off David Wells.”
SkyDome has been equally friendly to visiting hitters this season. The Orioles have gotten 24 hits in their two games here, but have yet to homer.
“They’re just hitting the ball further than we are,” said Conine, who got his 1,000th career hit last night. “We were getting hits against Wells so we can’t complain.”
The Blue Jays got a run in the second courtesy of an error from Mark Lewis, who replaced Cal Ripken at third base, and the first of Raul Mondesi’s two solo homers in the second.
After Mondesi’s second homer put the Blue Jays up 3-2 in the fifth, Darrin Fletcher hit a solo blast in the sixth and Carlos Delgado hit a two-run homer an inning later.
The Orioles got two back in the fifth after Ripken, who was playing his first ever game at designated hitter, hit a single to score Conine and Albert Belle.
The Orioles got two more in eighth with an RBI from Mike Bordick (his club-leading 32nd) and DeShields. However Surhoff represented the tying run and the left fielder, the club MVP in 1999, popped to short to extend his recent struggles to 10-for-59.
Conine reached first with one out in the ninth Blue Jay closer Billy Koch got Ripken to fly out and Johnson to ground out to end the game.