It’s rough being an old pitcher on the Yankees these days. All the talk swirls around the young arms: Joba, Ian, Edwar, Phil. Even Brian Cashman gushes for paragraphs about Humberto and Ross, not to mention the slew of injured pitchers rehabbing with the Yanks.
For the Yankees and their October dreams, success lies squarely in the past, and starting tonight, we’ll see if that past is ready for one last gasp of greatness.
Mike Mussina, the beleaguered and neglected Mike Mussina, drew the short straw tonight. Making his first appearance since relieving an injured Roger Clemens on September 3 and his first start since a disastrous showing on August 27, Moose will take the hill tonight at the Rogers Centre. When he squares off against Dustin McGowan, his pinstripe future will be open for debate.
Mussina, despite his past greatness, has been skipped over in the Yankee hierarchy. In a move rare during the Torre years, Mussina was unceremoniously dumped from the rotation in August in favor of a 22-year-old. While the 22-year-old has shown a tendency to throw strikes and get outs, Mussina has lingered in the bullpen. Tonight, he’ll drag his 8-10 record and his 5.51 ERA to the mound, and he’ll probably wonder what the future holds. The Yanks have the pieces to replace him, and they’ve shown that they won’t hesitate to do so.
After Mussina comes the old man of the Yankees. This Sunday, after what will be nearly two weeks away due to an injury, Roger Clemens will attempt to come back against Curt Schilling and the Red Sox. Clemens, who has raised more than a few eyebrows with his behavior during this injury time out, has a lot riding on the next few weeks.
First up is the Roger Clemens legacy. We all know that Clemens is the master of his own fate. He wants to go out on top; he doesn’t want to go out with ligament damage in his elbow, as he claims he has. I’m sure Clemens wants to pull a Curt Schilling 2004. He’ll ride in on his white – or is that bloody? – horse to save the day for the Yanks and deliver them that elusive World Championship.
If Clemens brings home the proverbial bacon, the Rocket may turn in his spikes. What better way to end a career than with a ring in the Bronx? But not so fast, says Will Carroll, hinting that Clemens’ agents are asking the Astros if they’re interested in his services for next year. If the Astros know what’s best for a floundering franchise, the team would politely turn down the Hendricks brothers now, and Roger Clemens could go out triumphantly.
Seeing the Rocket forced out due to a bad elbow would be an unfitting end to a great career. Seeing him blow out his elbow pitching the Yanks to a World Series title, well, that be something. And truth be told, the Yanks, with a shaky rotation full of promise but not experience, could use a halfway decent Clemens over the next six weeks.
Finally, we come to the youngest old man on the Yankees: number 46. Pettitte has been nothing short of brilliant for the Yankees this year. He and Chien-Ming Wang have been a formidable one-two punch atop the Yankees rotation and may just be able to carry this team deep into October. But the rumors about retirement are popping up this year as they did last year.
Pettitte at 35 holds a $16 million player option for next year, and he’s certainly earning his keep this year. But he wants to be with his family too. If this year isn’t the last for Andy, then next year certainly will be. There is, however, a catch.
The 2008 Yankees need Andy Pettitte for his experience and his knowledge. Next year, the Yanks will have a parade of young kids marching across the mound. Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Ross Ohlendorf represent the tip of the ice berg. Pettitte would be a great stabilizing force on the field and an excellent mentor off the field. The Yanks need Pettitte in 2008 just as much for his 200 innings as for what he could do and mean for the young arms that are the future of the team.
So three veteran pitchers; three diverging story lines; and just under three weeks of baseball left. The pennant race, the games, the human stories. This is what makes baseball great.