The O's Have It
A number of factors have contributed to Baltimore's rousing start. The Orioles, who finished sixth last year but were only a game behind first-place Toronto at week's end, have played terrific defense and have gotten surprisingly strong hitting performances from outfielder Brady Anderson and catcher Chris Hoiles. However, Baltimore's biggest lift has come from pitchers Mike Mussina and Ben McDonald.
"Those two are very similar," says manager John Oates. Indeed, both are righthanders, both are from major college programs, and both were 4-0 through Sunday, the first time the O's have had two starters with 4-0 records since Jim Palmer and Dave McNally in 1971.
"Yet they're so different," continues Oates. "Ben still has a lot of little kid in him. Mike is like a distinguished businessman. Mike is very mature."
Mussina, 23, looks and acts as if he has been in the majors for years. As of Sunday, he had made 18 big league starts, dating back to last August, and had pitched into the seventh inning 17 times. He had an 8-5 record with a 2.89 ERA. "He's very creative," says Baltimore pitching coach Dick Bosman. "He'll take a slider we've been fiddling around with in the bullpen and use it in a big situation to get an out. He can change speeds intuitively, which shows a lot of poise and composure. Good pitchers are often bright—not necessarily well educated, but bright."
Mussina is both. He graduated from Stanford in 3� years with a degree in economics. Says Oates, "I don't talk to him. I'm afraid he'll ask me something I don't know. He's got a line of books about three feet long in his locker. I probably talk to him less than anyone on the team. He needs less stroking than most players."
The Orioles made Mussina the 20th pick in the first round of the June 1990 draft. He pitched only 1� years in the minor leagues, putting together a 13-4 record and 2.43 ERA, before Baltimore called him up on July 31, 1991. Says Palmer, now an Oriole broadcaster, "The only way Mike won't win 20 games this season is if they don't score runs for him. What do I like about him? Everything."
Perhaps the most startling thing about Mussina's success is that he says he hasn't had his best stuff yet. He claims he's not throwing his curveball properly, and it bugs him. "I hate to do anything incorrectly," says Mussina. "When I missed a free throw playing high school basketball, it was like, Why did I miss that? No one is guarding me. Why don't I make it every time? I get very upset when I don't do things I know I can do."
McDonald was the No. 1 choice in the June 1989 draft. His stuff was so good at LSU that he was given the highest rating ever for a pitcher by the major league scouting bureau. After going 8-5 with a 2.43 ERA as a rookie in 1990, McDonald seemed set to be Baltimore's ace in '91. "It was, 'However Ben goes, so go the Orioles,' " says McDonald. "That's a lot of pressure for a 23-year-old kid."
McDonald wasn't up to the pressure and went 6-8 with a 4.84 ERA. Concern developed about his confidence: If he didn't have all his pitches working, he would get hit hard. One reason the O's signed veteran Rick Sutcliffe as a free agent in the off-season was to show McDonald how to win without his best stuff.