Feb. 16, 2002
Tampa - Really, Mike Mussina and the Yankees are just getting to know one another as they enter the second year of a marriage that will last at least six seasons. Certainly, the righthander is a hard guy to get to know, regardless of how much time one spends with him.
This past week, though, the usually taciturn Mussina spoke clearly and honestly about what Yankees fans can expect from him in this, his 12th major-league season: What they already have experienced is as good as it gets.
"No matter what the record, I don't know if I can pitch much better than I did [in 2001]," Mussina said. "I've had years, statistically, that were maybe a little bit better, but changing clubs, being in a new environment, being on a team that was expected to win, I was really pleased with the way I pitched."
As were the Yankees. After signing Mussina to a six-year, $88.5-million contract in the 2000-01 offseason, they watched him post a 17-11 record and 3.15 ERA last year, striking out 214 and recording three shutouts. He didn't need to miss a single turn in the rotation.
He won the team's most important game of the season, American League Division Series Game 3 in Oakland (by a 1-0 margin), and he also won AL Championship Series Game 2 in Seattle (by an equally slim 3-2 score).
Only the won-loss record prevented Mussina from receiving more consideration for the AL Cy Young Award and from making his pinstriped debut a complete success. The mediocre Yankees offense rarely looked worse than on the days Mussina pitched. In his 11 losses, the team totaled 24 runs, an average of 2.2 runs per start.
He didn't hide his contempt about that lack of run support last year, but after an offseason of rest, he attempted to put a positive spin on it. Said Mussina: "I was really fortunate to be involved in close one-run games over and over and over again. If every time I went out there and got seven or eight runs, then games like 1-0 in Oakland or 3-2 in Seattle wouldn't have come through. Those games, over the course of the year, prepare you for games in the playoffs when one run is very, very important."
In these early days of camp, Mussina has appeared to be in a good mood, cracking more jokes and shaking more hands than he did during the regular season last year.
It could be that, like many players, he is simply more relaxed during spring training. Or it could be that a full season in New York has made him more at ease in his new environment after 10 years in Baltimore.
"It's just getting acclimated," Mussina said. "Getting [Jorge] Posada used to what I like to do. Fitting in with the bullpen catcher, fitting in with Mel [pitching coach Stottlemyre], fitting in with Joe [Torre]. Making friends.
"It takes a little while [to adjust]. This year, that's reduced quite a bit."
Said Torre, "I didn't sense that there was any real adjustment period for him, other than getting to know people and people getting to know him and reading him, understanding him a little more. He really doesn't allow much, not to you guys, and he doesn't say much to us, either. But he's very comfortable."
Mussina noted that he pitched better in the second half than the first half last year; he went 9-7, 3.35 before the All-Star break and 8-4, 2.91 after. Perhaps, he said with a smile, he can start his second half earlier this year.
Notes & Quotes: Friday was a particularly quiet day in camp, as all of the pitchers rested their arms after throwing Thursday. David Wells, who is about a week behind his fellow pitchers because he is rehabilitating from back surgery, took part in all fielding drills . . . Although the anthrax scare has died down, the Yankees still are not letting their players open any fan mail.
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