One of the most criticized aspect of Mike Mussina’s legendary career was his alleged “inability” to perform at a high level in the postseason. We at The Official Mike Mussina Hall of Fame Campaign Page are outraged at this perception, and will offer concrete evidence to prove otherwise:
1997: Simply unhittable
The 1997 postseason for Mike Mussina, is, in one writers’ humble opinion, one of the greates postseason performances of all-time. At the peak of his power, Mussina outdueled aces and shut down lineups, while getting litte to no support from his teammates.
In the Division Series, Mussina faced a loaded Mariners team with a lineup of future Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Edgar Martinez, not to mention the dangerous Jay Buhner. Griffey had won MVP that season, and the Mariners had scored more runs than any other team in the league. Complicating matters was the fact that Mussina was facing future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, who had finished 2nd in Cy Young voting that season.
No matter. In the opening game, Mussina spun seven masturful innings, srtiking out nine and walking none. Two solo home runs did little to faze Mussina as he quieted the league’s most powerful lineup, giving the Orioles as 1-0 lead in the series.
With the Orioles up 2-1 in the series, and looking to close out the M’s, Mussina was called upon to duel with Johnson again. And once again, Mussina stared the Big Unit down. Once again throwing seven magnificent innings, Mussina allowed a single run on only two hits, and striking out hitters. A 3-1 Oriole win cemented the series.
If downing a living legend wasn’t enough for Mussina, he was then called upon twice more the the ALCS. He did not disappoint.
In Game Three, with the series tied at one, the Orioles needed a strong pitching performance. Mussina delivered, going seven innings and allowing a lone run on three hits with two walks. He struck out an astounding 15 hitters, striking out the side three seperate occasions. However, the Oriole lineup was not up to the task of supporting their ace, and they eventually fell 2-1 in 12 innnigs.
Many pitchers would have become discouraged after such a game. Mussina simply turned around and pitched better in Game 6. with the Orioles facing elimination, Mussina was at his best, tossing 8 shutout innnings, alowing only a single hit and a pair of walks while striking out 10. Sadly, his teammates once again refused to help him and the Orioles were defeated 1-0 in 11 innings.
Although he emerged from the series winless, his performance, was, simply put, legendary. We defy anyone to find a pitcher with a better postseason series line in the last 20 years than this:
15 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 4 BB 25 K
For the postseason, Mussina’s line was as follows:
4 G, 2-0, 1.24 ERA, 29 IP, 11 H, 4 ER, 7 BB, 41 K
It is unfathomable to The Official Mike Mussina Hall of Fame Campaign Page that a pitcher throwing four straight games at this level could go unrecognized. Well, that will no longer be the case.
2001: Season Saving
Here at The Official Mike Mussina Hall of Fame Campaign Page, we place special emphasis on efforts that save a team’s season. Even if a player falters later, the fact that they are the reason that the year even got to that point was because of them. Such was the case in 2001 for the Yankees.
The Bronx Bombers found themselves down two games to none to the Oakland Athletics after dropping the first two games of the series at home. Now on the West Coast, the three-time defending champions were staring at elimination. There was only one man they could turn to: Mike Mussina
With the season on the line and Oakland ace Barry Zito matching him pitch for pitch, Mussina’s composure and poise were unmatched. His seven shutout innings were not only clutch, they were necessary, as the Yankees scored a lone run. But with Mussina’s control at it’s best–68 of his 100 pitches were strikes–the win was inevitable. The Yankees won 1-0, and completed the historic comeback two days later.
*Note: Yes, this was the “Jeter flip” game. Mussina was still the hero. End of story.
2003: The Forgotten Man
Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS had not gone how the Yankees had drawn it up. With a trip to the World Series on the line, the Yankees found themselves trailing 4-0 in the fourth inning. Supposed “Ace” Roger Clemens had been awful before being pulled. But now the Yankees had a problem: With runners on the corners and no-one out, the fourth inning was far from over. Who could be counted on to, once again, save the Yankees season and allow them the oppurtunity to stage a comeback? From the bullpen, a savior trotted in: Mike Mussina.
Jason Varitek, who had already doubled off of Clemens, was the first to try his hand at closing the Yankees coffin. He went down swinging. Next stepped in the dangerous Johnny Damon, the leadoff man for the Sox. Mussina stunned the speedy Damon by inducing a double play groung ball, emding the inning and allowing the Yankees to escape.
However, the Yankees could not afford to let Mussina leave. Simply put, this was too important a game to trust to just anyone. So Mussina’s first career refief appearance in the majors was extended, forcing him to face the meat of the Red Sox order in the 5th. With runners on first and second and only one out, Mussina was staring a future Yankee Killer David Ortiz. The legend of Big Papi would not begin on this night, as Mussina punched him out swinging before inducing a ground out from Kevin Millar to end the inning.
After the Yankees added a run in the 5th, they turned to Mussina one final time in the 6th. Moose responded by sending down the Red Sox in order, closing out hit night of three shutout innings and serving notice to the Sox that the dynasty would not be ended on his watch.
After once again saving the Yankees season, Mussina was handed the ball in Game 3 of the World Series against Josh Beckett and the Marlins. The series was tied 1-1, but with Mussina on the mound, the Yankees would steal the momentum. Mussina outpitched the ace of the Marlins staff, tossing seven innings and allowing a single run while striking out nine. How dominant was he? The Marlins, stunned by the loss, terrified to be lined up against Mussina again in a possible Game 7, were forced to adjust their pitching rotation. The Yankees were confident they could get Mussina the ball again. But Roger Clemens, David Wells and Andy Pettitte were unable to secure a victory, robbing Mussina at his chances for glory.
As these three stories indicate, Mike Mussina was a very good postseason pitcher. He was the best player for the 1997 Orioles, and his clutch performances in 2001 and 2003 led the Yankees to the pennant. Although the titles elude him, his pitching prowess on baseball’s biggest stage will no longer be ignored