Mussina L16-9 | 8IP | 5H | 2ER | 0BB | 10K | 4.60ERA
NEW YORK -- Mike Mussina had to feel pretty good about things going into Saturday's late-afternoon matchup with the Tigers. His history and the Yankees' history against Detroit should have left him feeling no other way.
Mussina had a 15-3 career mark against the Tigers going in even though he hadn't faced them since Aug. 31, 2000 when he was still pitching for Baltimore. Yet, since 1991 his 15 wins against Detroit, along with the 15 posted against the team from Motor City by Roger Clemens, are second only to the 18 wins Charles Nagy has over the Tigers.
His 2.35 ERA and the .221 batting average he had held the Tigers to over 172 2/3 innings were also better numbers than he had posted against any other American League team.
The Yanks, meanwhile, had won seven straight against Detroit and were a whopping 74-44 against the Tigers dating back to 1992.
But these weren't the same old Tigers Mussina would be going against. There were several fresh faces which Mussina had never seen before and a new pitcher whom the Yankees had never seen before on the mound in relief. The combination of the unknown and the law of averages finally caught up to Mussina and the Bombers as Detroit escaped with a 2-1 victory in The Bronx.
"It can work both ways," Mussina said of facing new players for the first time. "In general, sometimes the pitcher has the advantage. Sometimes you'll find out rather quickly what he [the batter] will swing at. But there aren't too many guys over there that I've had a lot of at-bats against other than [Damion] Easley, [Bobby] Higginson and [Randall] Simon. You have to learn quickly or you're stuck."
One of the players whom Mussina had never faced was Eric Munson. But Moose found out quickly what Munson likes to swing at, just missing with a curveball that was deposited in the upper deck in right field giving the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the second. The Yankees had gone 62 innings [seven consecutive games] without allowing a homer.
"I tried to get one down in the zone and I back-doored it too much," Mussina said. "I've given up solo homers before, though. I'm not worried about solo homers."
That much was evident immediately. Mussina retired the next 13 batters he faced and 17 of 18 before running into trouble in the eighth when he allowed a one-out single to Chris Truby. New York catcher Jorge Posada tried to pick Truby off first and made a wild throw. He was charged with an error and Truby wound up on second base, scoring one batter later when Omar Infante -- making his Major League debut -- singled to left center for his first big league hit and RBI.
Franklyn German was making his Major League debut and earned the victory in relief.
Still, Mussina (16-9) pitched one of his best games at Yankee Stadium this season and has now strung together three quality starts. He struck out 10 for the second time this season, marking the 34th time in his career that he reached double digits in Ks. He also didn't walk a batter for the eighth time this season, an accomplishment considering he walked six batters in his last outing.
"Moose pitched well enough to win so I'm pleased with that part of it," manager Joe Torre said. "In the big picture, it's a positive. He's got three good outings back-to-back. So you have to feel he's back [to normal]."
Normalcy to Mussina, though, involves victories, not merely good efforts. Afterwards, he was taking the glass-half-empty approach.
"I was happy with the way I threw the baseball but aside from that, I didn't win the game," Mussina said. "You can't be too pleased with that. I've been throwing the ball better and I feel stronger than I was feeling. And I'm going deeper into the game without much effort so maybe that's something better.
"But when you pitch well and lose, it's only so gratifying. That's not what we're here for. I could pitch the best game in the world and lose and not be happy with that."
Everything pointed to Mike Mussina feeling good Saturday afternoon. His history said so. The Yankees' history said so. And the Moose's postgame line almost would assuredly say so.
Yet, when Juan Acevedo recorded the final out of the afternoon -- a strikeout of Jason Giambi with the tying run on second base -- history went out the window and the only bottom line that mattered was the one on the scoreboard.
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