Clemens, admirer Mussina back on top

May 17, 1994|By Tom Keegan | Tom Keegan,Sun Staff Writer

Asked to name the active major-league pitcher he admires most, young Orioles veteran right-hander Mike Mussina didn't hesitate.

"Roger Clemens," Mussina answered. "Obviously, you have to respect what he's accomplished and how he's gone about it. He's greatly respected and he's earned it. He has worked as hard at it as any pitcher I'm aware of."

When Mussina and Clemens faced each other for the first and only time, last September at Fenway Park, neither pitcher was having a typical year.

Clemens struggled through an 11-14 season and Mussina (14-6 in 1993) was making his last start, finally giving in to shoulder troubles that dogged him throughout the second half of the season. Clemens earned his last win of the season, Mussina his last loss in the 5-4 game Mussina left after the third inning.

Both are back where they belong now, which is to say their names can be found among the leaders in several American League pitching categories.

Mussina (6-1, 2.48) ranks third in the AL in victories and fourth in earned-run average. Clemens (4-1, 2.59) ranks first in strikeouts and fifth in ERA. Clemens is second with a .194 opponents' batting average; Mussina is fourth (.204).

Unlike his counterpart tonight, Mussina doesn't have a 20-strikeout game in his past. He doesn't have a flashy nickname, or a Cy Young Award (yet). He also doesn't appear weighed down by the burdens of fame, as Clemens has been at times.

Has big-league success given Mussina, the Stanford graduate, a big-league attitude?

You be the judge: Mussina lives in Montoursville, Pa., in the off-season and is a volunteer football and basketball coach at the high school for which he starred in three sports.

Still not convinced?

"I'd rather be doing this than anything else," Mussina said of his profession. "I get to work out for a living, then I get to play baseball."

Clearly, Mussina, 25, has more Montoursville in him than Stanford.

"I don't want to make you look bad," he said. "I just want to beat you."

Nothing seems to bother him more than athletes who rub it in.

"This is the age of taunting," Mussina said. "I can honestly say I've never done that. I have never purposely tried to show anybody up. I'm happy enough if I get the hitter out. I don't need to pound my fist when I strike somebody out. If you dunk over someone, why do you have to get in his face and yell at him? Sometimes I wonder if that's an insecurity. What, aren't they going to remember you dunked unless you get in their face and scream at them to remind them you dunked?"

Mussina does anything but shy away from a challenge and he doesn't gloat when he conquers the task at hand.

"If a challenge is put to me, whether it's leaving a small town in central Pennsylvania to go to school in California, doing a crossword puzzle, or whatever, darn if I'm not going to try to do it," Mussina said.

Much more often than not, when he tries, he succeeds. Mussina's .712 winning percentage (42-17) is second only to Toronto's Juan Guzman among active pitchers and is the best in Orioles history.

Mussina's success has changed his hometown more than it has changed him. In Montoursville, baseball caps spotted around town changed with the standings. When the Yankees were hot, the town loved the Yankees. Same for the Phillies, the Mets, the Pirates.

Now, everyone is an Orioles fan.

"So many people I grew up with just don't leave [Montoursville]," Mussina said. "They're still there and I don't know what in the world they're still doing there. I ask them what stops you from leaving?"

Thanks to Mussina, some leave for short stretches at least.

"People are coming down all the time to see the Orioles," he said. "Indirectly, I've gotten people from Montoursville to experience a little more of the world, even if it's just going to Baltimore to watch a game."

Mussina is glad he left his hometown and is happy to return during the off-season.

"I could just as easily live in a large city, but I'm more comfortable living in a small one," he said. "It doesn't take 20 minutes to get someplace. I know a lot of people there. It's quiet."

As quiet as both teams' bats figure to be tonight at Camden Yards.

Mussina specializes in pitching the sort of games he least enjoys watching.

"I like a 13-12 game," he said. "I'm more of a basketball fan than a baseball fan. I like action. In a high-scoring game, there is always something happening. As a fan, my least favorite baseball games are 2-1 games. If I'm a paying fan, I don't want to only see two hours and 10 minutes. I would rather see 3 1/2 hours and a 10-8 game. Those are kind of fun.

"I still am more of a basketball fan. I like to watch baseball. I'm never one who would complain about a game being too long, but I love to watch basketball. Basketball's up and down all the time. A lot goes on and there are a lot of times to cheer in a basketball game."

The time to taunt? Never. He just wins and walks off the mound.

ORIOLES TONIGHT

Opponent: Boston Red Sox

Site: Oriole Park at Camden Yards

Time: 7:35

TV/Radio: HTS/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Red Sox's Roger Clemens (4-1, 2.59) vs. Orioles' Mike Mussina (6-1, 2.48)

INSTANT REPLAY?

How Mike Mussina's first eight starts this year compare to his first eight starts two years ago, when Mussina went 18-5 in his first full major-league season (*-projected based on 32 starts, the number Mussina had in 1992):

1992 ........ ........ ....... 1994

Dec. ........ IP .. ER .. H .. Dec. .. IP ... ER ... H

ND .......... 5 2/3 1 .. 6 .. Win .... 8 .... 1 ... 2

Win ......... 8 .... 1 .. 7 .. Win .... 5 .... 2 ... 5

Win ......... 9 .... 1 .. 6 .. Win .... 7 2/3 1 ... 4

Win ......... 7 2/3 5 .. 8 .. Loss ... 8 1/3 3 ... 9

Win ......... 7 .... 3 .. 7 .. Win .... 7 2/3 6 ... 8

ND .......... 6 .... 3 .. 6 .. Win .... 7 .... 1 ... 7

Win ......... 8 2/3 0 .. 4 .. ND ..... 9 .... 2 ... 5

Loss ........ 8 .... 4 .. 7 .. Win .... 9 .... 1 ... 7

Tot. 5-1 .... 60 .. 18.. 51 .. 6-1 ... 60 2/3 .. 17 .. 47

Final 18-5.. 241 .. 68..212.. *24-4..*242 2/3 ..*68..*188

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