Mike Mussina surrendered one Eutaw Street home run during nine seasons pitching at Camden Yards. The lone batter to reach the famed walkway against him was a player with whom he would become very familiar: Jim Thome.
Only four pitchers faced Thome more often than the 59 times Mussina did so. One of the most memorable match-ups came during a July 26, 1996 game in Baltimore.
With speedy Indians lead-off man Kenny Lofton on second base and one down in the first inning, Thome clubbed a Mussina offering 440 feet for the 10th Eutaw Street home run in Camden Yards history.
Thome finished the day 3-for-5 with two runs and two RBI. His Eutaw Street blast was the 20th of what would briefly be a career-high 38 home runs. (Thome stroked 40 home runs in 1997 and 52 in 2002.)
The young third baseman hit 25 home runs and 73 RBI the previous year; his stock continued to rise in 1996 as he barreled toward his only Silver Slugger award at the position. Thome moved to first base following Cleveland’s acquisition of Matt Williams.
The Indians defeated the Orioles 14-9 to pin the Birds with a five-game losing streak and send the team below .500, at 50-51, for the first time in 1996. The O’s fell 11 games behind the Yankees and struggled to stay afloat amid a rising tide of trade rumors.
“Our pitchers are just not holding up their end,” said Manager Davey Johnson.
Mussina took the loss – his eighth – after surrendering 11 hits and eight earned runs in 3.2 innings pitched. It was the first time in his career that he lost three straight decisions. He allowed a career-high 31 home runs on the season, seventh most in the American League behind teammate David Wells.
The fledgling ace won 19 games in 1995, but a repeat performance seemed unlikely as he had an 11-8 record following the loss to the Indians.
“I always felt, from the beginning, we had the players here to win, but we haven’t put it together, and it’s hard to understand why we haven’t” said Rafael Palmeiro. “This is the low point in the season right now.”
Things soon changed.
Mussina followed up his brief losing streak with an 8-1 record to finish fifth in the Cy Young voting. The Orioles went 38-23 down the stretch and earned the A.L. Wild Card. The discouraging four-game set in Baltimore had therefore served as an unlikely preview of the American League Division Series. Sort of.
Having lost three of four against the Indians in July, the Orioles turned the tables in October and won the ALDS in four games. Meanwhile, Thome faced Mussina three times: he walked, struck out, and grounded out.