A pitch for pinstripes

FACEOFF

November 21, 2008|By RICK MAESE

Wearing an Orioles uniform, Mike Mussina wrote the rough draft of a Hall of Fame resume. But when he became a Yankee, he spent the next eight seasons polishing that resume, building - and even improving - on what he had done early in his career.

The fact of the matter is, Mussina bolted on Baltimore and found himself pitching in the postseason for seven of the next eight seasons. Playing on the giant New York stage and pitching in October provided him much-needed exposure. (I'll concede his best postseason performance was actually in 1997. However, over the course of 16 playoff starts for the Yankees, he had a 4-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His time in pinstripes proved he wasn't merely an April-July pitcher. It also proved he could handle the spotlight, pressure and New York microscope.)

Not only did Mussina's best game come with the Yankees (Sept. 2, 2001, against the Boston Red Sox, when he retired the first 26 batters), but so did his best season. Yes, his arm was younger and livelier in Baltimore, but 2008 will stand as Mussina's most impressive year. It was when he couldn't simply rely on natural tools, when he had to dig deep and make difficult adjustments. The result was the only 20-win season of his career. (The last pitcher to call it quits immediately after a 20-win season? Sandy Koufax.)

Mussina was so reliable and so consistent over the years that there isn't much statistical variation between his Orioles years and his time in New York. He is a guy who fell just short of a perfect game. Just short of a World Series. And until last season was just short of a 20-win season. He won't finish just short of Cooperstown. And his time in a Yankees uniform is the reason.

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