Boy, do I love being wrong about such things. First, I didn’t expect Mussina to have a great year and, after reinventing himself, he did. Then, after Mussina struggled against Tampa September 13, I figured that ended Mussina’s bid for 20 since he needed to win his final three starts. Given the team’s sluggish play to that point, I didn’t see it happening. Thankfully, that too was wrong, for Mike Mussina, for the first time in his career, has won 20 games after today’s 6-2 victory. Mussina was efficiently dazzling through six, allowing just three hits and walking two while fanning three on a mere 73 pitches/48 strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 16 of the 21 batters he faced and ended his stint by getting Pedroia, possibly the AL MVP, to ground into a 4-6-3 DP.
Before getting to a brief recap, I just can’t say how impressed I am with Mussina’s 2008 season–20-9, 3.37 ERA, 150 K/31 BB. Just as impressive, Mussina’s career stats after such an impressive year look increasingly Hall-of-Fame worthy–270-153, 2,813 K/785 BB, 3.68 ERA; 123-72 as a Yankee. Is Mussina worthy of the Hall if this was his last game, as Pete Abraham has reported that he might retire? I think so. Those are impressive numbers, the 20-win mark is there at long last and, whether or not Mussina ever has a ring, he was one of the best of his generation. When the Yanks acquired Mussina, I was far from alone in my salivating over Moose in pinstripes. He had some disappointments, mainly in the post-season, but some great moments then too–nearly throwing a perfect game in Fenway September 2, 2001, the Game 3 gem in the 2001 ALDS, pitching 3 great innings in relief of an ineffective Clemens to help keep the Yanks in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Terrific Yankee pitcher, and worthy of serious Hall-of-Fame consideration, to me. When I have time, I’ll compare his stats to others in the Hall. We’ll see if he continues to pitch but, if not, Mussina deserves it with his current numbers.
Nady broke a scoreless tie in the fourth with a homer to right, his 25th of the year and 12th as a Yankee, 3-0 Yankees. As I’m writing this, I just called a Bills interception that was returned for a touchdown to make it 20-14 Bills. I’m listening to the Bills-Rams game via the Internet and, as the Rams lined up for the first play of the fourth quarter ahead 14-13 in a tough, tight contest, I said, How about an interception? Lo and behold, it happened and Jabari Greer ran it back for the score. I love when that happens, and I’m still chuckling. A little luck and a big coincidence never hurt anyone.
Back to the recap. After Mussina pitched his excellent six, Phil Coke pitched a terrific seventh, fanning 2 in his 1-2-3 stint. But Joba struggled in the eighth, allowing a hit and a walk before being pulled for Bruney, who got the first two outs of the eighth, including a grounder that cut the lead to 3-1 Yanks. Girardi then went to Marte and Ellsbury’s single to left cut it to 3-2, jeopardizing Mussina’s bid for 20. But Mariano, the greatest relief pitcher ever, who might need off-season surgery on his right shoulder, fanned Pedroia on three pitches. The Yankees made it count, adding three more in the top of the 9th off Papelbon. Cano singled, Ransom’s single moved Cano to third, Molina’s sac fly to right made it 4-2, Gardner singled to center, JD’s walk loaded the bases, and Melky’s soft grounder to third made it 5-2. Lowrie couldn’t handle A-Rod’s soft grounder to short, 6-2 Yanks. Mariano worked around a lead-off E6 for his 39th save of the year and the 482nd of his incomparable career.
Great for Mussina, first and foremost. Thanks for someone as brilliant as Mariano to close it down, even more impressive considering what he’s endured this year. Nady was 2-4 with the three-run homer. Cano was 3-4. Ransom and A-Rod each had two hits, and the Yanks worked over Papelbon in the ninth. We’ll see if they can play the second game with all the rain in the area. Whether or not, it’s been a terrific end to an uneven, disappointing season at least for Mussina getting his 20th, and Mariano ending it with a save. 89-72 going into the finale.