D'backs burst out of gate, 9-1

Mussina lasts only 3

Schilling wins opener

World Series

October 28, 2001|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

PHOENIX - Mike Mussina left the Orioles last winter for the increased likelihood that he would get to pitch in the World Series as a member of the three-time defending world champion New York Yankees.

There also was the $88.5 million he squeezed out of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, of course, but the prospect of getting a World Series ring was a driving force - just as it had been for former Oriole Curt Schilling when he pushed for the deal that sent him from the Philadelphia Phillies to the Arizona Diamondbacks last year.

Mussina got his chance in Game 1 of the 97th Fall Classic last night, but his first World Series appearance clearly did not turn out the way he had envisioned it.

He struggled with his control from the outset and lasted just three innings as the Diamondbacks struck early and often to score a lopsided 9-1 victory over the Yankees before a raucous sellout crowd of 49,646.

"It's not something that I'm going to remember fondly, I'll tell you that," Mussina said afterward, "not just because of what happened, but because of the stuff I went out there with."

Only Schilling pitched up to the occasion. He entered the game with three straight postseason victories and shook off a first-inning RBI double by Bernie Williams to dominate the Yankees the same way he handled the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves in the first two playoff rounds.

He gave up just three hits over seven innings and struck out eight to improve his career postseason record to 5-1. The evening was in doubt for just a few innings before the Diamondbacks batted around in the third to score four times and added four more in the fourth to turn the opener into a laugher.

"He was pitching the way he has throughout the entire season," manager Bob Brenly said, "especially this postseason."

Who would have figured that the game could get out of hand so soon after the way both pitchers had performed in their other postseason appearances? Mussina was credited with turning the tide after the Yankees fell two games behind the Oakland Athletics in the Division Series. He also turned in a strong performance to put the Yankees up by two games over the Seattle Mariners in the American League Championship Series.

"I'm always surprised when something like that happens," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He could not locate the pitches the way he wanted to, and we paid the price.

"Mussina just was not Mussina tonight, but I don't want to say that it was totally his fault, as opposed to what they did to us."

The game shaped up as a classic low-scoring postseason affair, but both pitchers got nicked in the first inning. Schilling hit Derek Jeter with a pitch and Williams fought off an inside pitch into the left-field corner to put the Yankees on top and put immediate pressure on the Diamondbacks.

It was the kind of hit that leads to those inevitable references to the so-called "Yankees' mystique," which was a very hot topic of discussion during the ALCS victory over the 116-win Mariners. Every time the ball bounces in the right direction for the Yankees, it is credited to their unbeatable postseason chemistry, but this time the mystique was only as good as the Moose - who wasn't very good at all.

"It was not one thing, it was everything," said Mussina. "You can't do that. These guys are too good and they'll take advantage of it. ... When you're facing a guy who's had the kind of postseason that Schilling is having, you have got to go out there with your best stuff."

The Diamondbacks have their own form of postseason magic, and it is embodied in unlikely postseason hero Craig Counsell, who is the only member of the Arizona roster with a World Series ring.

Counsell cut his teeth in the postseason as a member of the 1997 world champion Florida Marlins and played a major role in their Game 7 extra-inning victory over the Cleveland Indians. He picked up pretty much where he left off this October, batting .381 to win MVP honors in the National League Championship Series.

So, who could have been surprised when Counsell greeted Mussina with a game-tying home run in the bottom of the first inning? It was his second home run of the postseason after hitting only four in 141 regular-season games.

"That home run, for me, was the turning point," Schilling said. "I sat on the bench and when he hit the home run, I was resolved that we were going to win or I was going to get a no-decision. Fortunately, Mike made some mistakes and we took advantage of some defensive lapses and didn't need to go 1-1. But he [Counsell] is just one of those guys that has a heart that you just could not measure."

Maybe that home run should have been the indication that Mussina was not all there, but he came back to work a relatively easy second inning before his game unraveled in a strange third inning.

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