Victory underscores banner week for Mussina Fatherhood soothes pain of months of frustration, injury-marred season

September 08, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Whatever pain and professional frustration had ushered Mike Mussina through this season evaporated last Thursday night when the Orioles' ace gained the title of father. That he completed an unforgettable week Sunday night with a win over the Seattle Mariners only slightly elevated the hectic experience.

Mussina pitched eight innings of a 5-2 win, yielding four hits, two walks and two runs while striking out 10. He displayed his best breaking pitch this season and pitched from the stretch against only four hitters through seven innings.

Afterward, Mussina allowed himself two luxuries, an adult beverage and an uncompromised grin.

Few, if any, players have endured what Mussina has endured this season. A ruptured wart put him on the disabled list in April and Cleveland Indians catcher Sandy Alomar's line drive crushed against his forehead May 14. The two absences cost Mussina his shot at a first 20-win season but were minor inconveniences compared with the concern Mussina has carried all year for his wife and their unborn child.

"A couple injuries, a couple stints on the DL and now having our son born. It's an exciting time. It's going to affect your appropriate time for baseball," he said.

"Am I relieved all that's over? Yes. Everybody's OK. That's a relief."

In several ways this season has refused to cut Mussina any slack. Shortly after going on the disabled list in April with the wart, he left the team in Texas to return home to his wife. Doctors expressed concern for his wife Jana's pregnancy.

The matter never affected his preparation or performance; but one of Mussina's first concerns after taking Alomar's line drive to the head was whether his wife was watching. (She wasn't at the game and thankfully did not see the incident on television.)

"I guess you could say it's been a hectic year," Mussina said.

Everyone outside the Orioles' dugout enjoyed a masterful performance. Everyone inside it understood they were watching another powerful statement by a man used to persevering.

"It takes a strong person to go out there and face what he's had to face this year," said catcher Chris Hoiles. "He's just a true professional. To be able to overcome that -- and all in one year -- is pretty remarkable. Not everybody could do it."

Said Mussina: "When you get these obstacles put in front of you, they can make you a better person. To get something on your pitching hand that could have been anywhere, to get hit in the head with a line drive that could've ended my career or worse, and that's just the first half of the season. I'd say I'm pretty lucky."

Since May, Mussina frequently shuttled home between starts to be with his wife as she endured a difficult pregnancy.

The couple had received assurances but no guarantees from Jana's doctors. It wasn't until last Thursday at 10:42 p.m. that the Mussinas received the best possible news when their son, Brycen Cole, was born healthy at 9 pounds, 4 ounces.

"It's probably been the toughest year of his career," said manager Ray Miller, "but he's such a mentally tough kid he's been able to come back and pitch well. His wife and him have been battling through this until the last couple days."

Mussina remained in Williamsport, Pa., with his family until Saturday. He rejoined the club during its afternoon loss, throwing briefly on the side.

"Obviously for one day, I didn't worry about baseball," he said. "You only worry about one thing and that was whether everyone was going to be OK. I'm really glad that it did."

Despite a modified routine that included an additional day's rest since his last start, Mussina seemed to make an extra day of rest work for him. The win lifted his career record to 10-1 in 13 career regular-season starts against the Mariners.

Mussina promised he would wait until yesterday morning for his newest hobby. "It's actually fun to call home and be able to hear him cry in the background. I'm excited by it. We've been through a lot in the last three-quarters of a year. I guess all new dads experience that," he said.

Pub Date: 9/08/98

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