I solemnly swear to utter only good words about Mike Mussina in this post.
After 24 hours of bashing the man, I need to make it up to him. For all the grief I’ve given Mussina today here and here, Mussina deserves recognition and praise for the 209 starts he’s made for the Yankees. In that process, he’s won 100 regular season games and has lost just 62. He’s also thrown some very memorable playoff games as well.
So in recognition of a pitcher who’s been a steady presence on the Yankees since 2001, let’s look at Mike Mussina’s five best games in pinstripes.
1. September 2, 2001: Nine days before Sept. 11, Mike Mussina twirled a masterpiece that remains his best game in pinstripes. For 8 2/3 tense innings, he kept the Yanks’ archnemesis — the Boston Red Sox — off base. He was, in a word, perfect until Carl Everett, a man who does not believe in dinosaurs, stepped up the plate as a pinch hitter. Everett laced a single just into left-centerfield, and Mussina, perfect for 26, had to settle for a one-hit shutout. The game ended in a 1-0 Yankee victory, and Trot Nixon was not only the last out but the potential winning run. Moose struck out 13 that day and was amazing.
2. October 13, 2001: Down 2 games to none against the A’s in the ALDS, the Yankees, America’s team during a tough stretch, were facing elimination, and it came down to Mike Mussina to keep them alive. Aided by an incredibly play by Derek Jeter, Mussina threw 7 brilliant innnings of four-hit, one-walk baseball before turning the slim 1-0 lead over to Mariano Rivera. The Yanks went on to beat the A’s and advance the ALCS. That game brings chills.
3. November 1, 2001: The Yankees couldn’t top what they had done on Oct. 31 of 2001, right? Down to their final at bat, the Yanks shocked the world when Tino Martinez launched a game-tying two-run home run off of Byun-Hyun Kim to tie the World Series at two games a piece. The next night was Mussina’s. He went 8 innings, giving up just 2 runs on 5 hits while striking out 10 against the Diamondbacks. The lasting image of this game, though, is Scott Brosius hitting a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the 9th again of Byung-Hyun Kim to tie the game. But we can’t undervalue Mike Mussina’s efforts here as the Yanks took a 3 games to 2 lead in the 2001 World Series.
4. October 16, 2003: Coming into game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Mussina had been the hard-luck loser. He lost game 1 in poor fashion and, despite 10 Ks in 6 2/3 innings, was simply outpitched by Tim Wakefield in game 4. Game 7 rolled around, and it was do-or-die time for the Yanks. Roger Clemens just didn’t have it, and the Yanks were down 4-0 with two on and no one out in the 4th inning. Joe Torre had to do something fast, and so he called on Mike Mussina to come out of the bullpen on two days’ rest. Mussina was brilliant. He struck out Jason Varitek and induced a groundball off the bat of the speedy Johnny Damon to hold the Sox at 4. Mussina would go 3 huge innings, giving up just 2 hits while striking out 3, and Grady Little would leave Pedro Martinez in for just a little bit too long. The night belonged to Aaron Boone and Mariano Rivera, but Moose was the unsung hero that evening.
5. October 21, 2003: When all is said and done, we would rather forget about the 2003 World Series. The annoying Marlins stunned us all by actually winning. But not before Mussina threw another huge game in the postseason. Five days after saving the Yanks’ season, Mussina took the mound and spun 7 innings of one-run ball while striking out 9. The Yanks would take a 2-1 series lead after that game, and it looked like masterful Moose would have a chance to pitch game 7. Then, Josh Beckett intervened, and the rest is sad, sad history.
Honorable Mention: October 18, 2004: I don’t really remember much of what happened after about 10:45 p.m. on the night of October 17, 2004. In fact, I could have sworn the ALCS ended there, but supposedly, the Yanks and Red Sox played a few more games after that. In game 5, with the Red Sox gaining momentum, Mussina held them in check. He threw six innings, giving up 2 runs and striking out 7. Tom Gordon blew it, and after that, everyone from Joe Torre to that stupid short fence in Fenway’s right field blew it. Not Mussina though. He was great.