Wednesday, May 21, 2008

O's Chase Mussina Early, Pound Yankees

NEW YORK -- What's one blowout between old friends?

The Yankees' Mike Mussina was an Oriole so long ago that he had only one former teammate -- Melvin Mora -- in the opposing dugout Tuesday night, but his name still carries extra resonance in Baltimore. The Orioles jumped all over their former ace in their series opener against the Yankees, knocking him out in the first inning and running to a 12-2 rout.

"It's great to do it here in Yankee Stadium, and it's great to do it against a guy who has a track record like Mussina," said Baltimore manager Dave Trembley. "He's a great pitcher. He's done it for an awful long time."

Mussina, who's been in the Majors since 1991 and an ex-Oriole since 2001, recorded just two outs Tuesday night, matching the shortest outing of his distinguished career. The last time Mussina (6-4) had been knocked out so early was in July 1995, and he had gone 13 straight starts this year without allowing a run in the first inning.

The veteran's line was inflated by six unearned runs Tuesday night, thanks to a two-out error that opened the floodgates. Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones -- who was just 4 years old when Mussina was drafted in 1990 -- broke the game open with a three-run double in the first and wound up setting career highs with four hits and four RBIs.

"Before you know it, things open up," said Trembley, speaking of the eventful inning. "We don't chase bad pitches. We take advantage of a four-out inning. ... We made Mussina throw a lot of extra pitches."

Two players -- left fielder Luke Scott and first baseman Kevin Millar -- finished the night with three runs. Scott was even involved in some late controversy, thanks to a dusting from former Oriole LaTroy Hawkins. The right-hander appeared to throw at and miss Scott twice in the sixth inning, inciting a bench-clearing discussion between the two teams.

Scott seemed to think there was intent involved, citing an earlier plunking received by Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Scott made his feelings known on the field and earned his revenge by blasting an upper-deck home run in the eighth inning.

"I understand there's certain things that happen," said Scott. "You want to protect your players, and there's a certain way to go about it. That was not it. You never throw at someone's head with intention. You can end someone's life. You can end a career. No one likes going through difficult moments like that, ugly moments in the game. But you've got to stick up for yourself."

"If anybody knows me," said Hawkins, "and a lot of guys around this league know me, I'm not that type of person. He thought what he wanted to think. The way it looked, he had a reason to think like that. But it wasn't intentional."

The game started innocently enough, with a leadoff walk to Brian Roberts followed by two quick outs. Two singles followed, and Jeter threw high to first base on a potential rally-killing ground ball. The play was ruled an error and loaded the bases, and Mussina walked in one run before serving up a three-run double to Jones and an RBI single to Freddie Bynum.

New York's starter stayed in to allow a triple to Roberts, who had just completed his first full pro season when Mussina left the Orioles. The seven-run outburst tied the road team's highest scoring inning of the year. Baltimore (24-20) went on to set a new season high in runs scored and margin of victory en route to the team's eighth win in its last 10 games.

"All those runs were with two outs. That's a big thing," said designated hitter Aubrey Huff, who scored twice and drove in one run. "Any time a team makes an error, you have to capitalize -- especially on the road and against a team like this. They can jump on you in a hurry. But to be able to take them out and take the crowd out, that's big."

The Yankees (20-25) couldn't get much going against Baltimore starter Daniel Cabrera, who had a seven-run advantage by the time he took the mound. Cabrera dominated the early going, holding New York to two hits in the first five innings. Cabrera (5-1) has now thrown eight consecutive quality starts, which ranks as the longest stretch in his career.

Cabrera, who led the league in walks in each of the last two years, didn't issue a free pass Tuesday for the third time this season. That's a huge sign of progress for the hulking right-hander, who has been known for his erratic command.

"The guy, from Day 1 in Spring Training, has come into his own," said Trembley. "He has a purpose to what he does. He doesn't get easily rattled. Those of you who had the great fortune to see him in the past are seeing a different guy. It's called growing up. It's called experience. It's called maturity. It's called having confidence."


Baltimore Orioles News