Mussina shows O's his stuff

New Yankee handles former team, crowd's cheers, jeers in 2-1 win

`It was odd' he says of return

Johnson allows 1 run, too, but Yanks sweep

May 07, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

By the time he toed the visitors' bullpen rubber at precisely 1:20 p.m., Mike Mussina had been called everything from a traitor to a pinko to a long-lost friend. And at precisely 4:51 p.m., before a sold-out Camden Yards, Mike Mussina was called the same thing he'd been labeled 147 times in a 10-year career with the Orioles: winning pitcher.

This time Mussina did it for the New York Yankees. This time he did it to the Orioles.

Mussina controlled his former team for seven innings of a 2-1 win that not only completed the Yankees' four-game sweep but also overshadowed meaningful accomplishments by Orioles starter Jason Johnson and third baseman Cal Ripken.

For the first time in Mussina's 295 career starts, the Orioles were on the receiving end of his dazzling five-pitch (or more) assortment. Scott Brosius' home run against reliever Mike Trombley (1-1) to lead off the eighth inning broke a 1-1 tie and made a winner of Mussina after he'd learned he had thrown his last pitch.

Mussina (3-3) survived his unprecedented mix of emotion. He took heat from some of the 47,740 who watched and was embraced by others. "I expected that. I didn't expect anything to come flying out of the stands," Mussina said. "I didn't expect anybody to be completely unruly. That is something I have never seen with these people in 10 years."

About half the crowd greeted Mussina with a standing ovation. The rest of the day was devoted to him sitting down ex-teammates.

"It was a little strange seeing him out on the hill, playing against him," said Ripken, himself recognized with a standing ovation between the first and second innings for breaking Brooks Robinson's franchise record for games played. "I have been trying to work on getting a swing -- a consistent swing -- the last couple games, and it felt pretty good. The knuckle-curve of his is like something I haven't seen."

"You watch the guy for 10 years and you still have no idea what pitch he's going to throw in a certain situation," right fielder Brady Anderson said admiringly.

The win was No. 150 of Mussina's career. It also left the Orioles with a five-game losing streak, a 13-19 record representing their first trip this season to six games below .500, and gave the Yankees their first four-game sweep in Baltimore since July 1996.

Mussina received a mixed reaction from a crowd gathered to watch his pre-game throwing. While two security types scanned the surroundings for signs of trouble, a rowdy in Brady Anderson sideburns taunted Mussina as "a sellout." Another voice, apparently oblivious to Mussina's activism within the ultra-capitalist players association, screamed "Communist!" Another faction yelled back, including a Catonsville woman wearing a blue hat with No. 35 and moose antlers as well as a T-shirt that proclaimed "Two Cities, One Class Act." She completed her ensemble with an orange button that stated "Blame Peter."

"When you've been fortunate enough to play in playoff games on the road, they can be tough. ... Some people wanted to get stuff off their chest," said Mussina, who received no video tribute during the game.

Mussina need only reflect five days to remember worse. It was then that Minnesota Twins fans pelted Yankees left fielder Chuck Knoblauch for the crime of requesting a trade from the organization three years earlier.

"I just saw Chuck Knoblauch get the worst treatment I've ever seen, and he's been gone for four or five years," Mussina said. "I'm sure when I come back here, I'll continue to get a reaction."

Said Yankees manager Joe Torre: "I thought he handled the situation and I thought the fans handled it with a lot of class. And he pitched well."

That Mussina rejected majority owner Peter Angelos' six-year, $78 million offer for the Yankees' six-year, $88.5 million deal will never be forgotten by a segment of the Orioles' fan base.

"It was odd and I expected it to be that way," Mussina said. "It was probably a little different because the view of home plate is a little different since they changed the stadium. I was used to looking at those two doors. Now you're looking at the stands on the first base side."

If he had looked hard enough, Mussina could've found his mother sitting behind the Orioles' dugout. For the first time since coming to Camden Yards, Ellie Mussina was somewhere other than the home team's family section. She described her reception as "about half and half" and remained adamantly behind her son's version of events that led to last November's move to the Bronx.

"The hardest part of it all is he really wanted to stay," Mrs. Mussina said. "A lot of fans probably think it was a dollar issue. I can't say the Orioles didn't offer him a reasonable contract. I think it was the fact that other people really acted like they really wanted him on their team."

Yesterday, the Yankees continued to do a little bit more.

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