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Mussina's feeling good about Yanks' chances

Sunday, January 20, 2002

WILLIAMSPORT -- Mike Mussina believes the New York Yankees could provide him with his first World Series ring in 2002.

The 33-year-old righthander from Montoursville believes the Yankees could win it all if they stay healthy. With the acquisition of Rondell White, Jason Giambi, Robin Ventura and Steve Karsay and bringing back David "Boomer" Wells, "we're preparing to make another run at it," he said.

After winning it three years in a row and coming up two outs short last year, "I know that George [Steinbrenner, the Yankees' owner] wants nothing but another trip to the Series and another victory," Mussina told about 200 people yesterday at his ninth annual fan club meeting.

With the starters and bullpen staff, all the Yankees have to do to win is play well and get a key hit or break, he said.

"It's nice having that feeling everyday you go to the park knowing if we play well our chances of winning are better than them," Mussina said.

He believes Boston will be the team to beat in the AL East, with Toronto third and Baltimore and Tampa Bay being too young to be involved the race.

Reflecting on last fall's World Series loss to Arizona, Mussina said he was disappointed, but the Yankees did not play well.

"Had we played well and lost, I would be tremendously disappointed," he said. "I felt fortunate we were in Game 7."

In beating Seattle for the American League title, "we were hot and they weren't," he said.

By defeating the Mariners in five games, New York had six days off before the start of the World Series.

"We got flat," Mussina said. "We had the momentum, but we got flat."

He described manager Joe Torre as someone who has accomplished a lot of things but never takes anything for granted.

"He never gets too excited about anything," said the pitcher. "If we won a game, that's great, we won a game. We have to play again tomorrow.

"If we lost a game, don't worry, we lost a game. We have to play again tomorrow. We can't change the fact we lost. It's just one game."

When something gets out of hand, teams have meetings, he said. "We might have had three all year," he said.

In a lighter moment, a fan citing Roger Clements and Wells as examples asked Mussina if they thought he could be a better pitcher if he gained weight.

He drew laughter when he answered: "I'd be slow, lethargic, a slob." At 185, he said he is within seven or eight pounds of what he was at Stanford.

Being slim probably has prevented a serious arm or knee injury that might affect his pitching, he said.

Answering questions from fans, Mussina, who had a 17-11 record with a 3.15 earned run average last year in his first with New York, said it would appear Orlando Hernandez will be traded because New York has too many starters.

"It was a pretty tough year" when it came to run support but it was not much different than Baltimore. The audience laughed when he said: "I have to believe I'm owed a ton of runs sometime. Because I'm getting older, I will enjoy the ton of runs due to me in the future."

The Yankees are successful because they win the 3-2, 2-1 games, he said.

Mussina is working on a knuckleball but does not plan to adjust his pitching until batters start hitting what he is throwing. "I'll do whatever works for as long as it works."

Playing for George Steinbrenner "is interesting," Mussina said Steinbrenner is not around a lot, but added, "you know he's George." If he does not believe a player is putting out an effort he will let him know.

Mussina is not ready to think about the Hall of Fame just yet. But, he said, "If I can stay healthy and be lucky enough to play on a good team and be able to go out there and pitch the way I have pitched the last 10 years for five or six more, who knows?

"It depends on what people think of you. If I can pitch well, maybe I will get some consideration."

His first spring training with New York was different because so many of the Yankee greats of the past were there in pinstripes.

After flirting twice with a perfect game during his career, he jokingly told the audience, "It's not going to happen."

Sept. 11 was a tough time for a Yankees who were in town that day. "We needed that week [when baseball shut down] to get itt all back together again," he said.


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