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Mussina returns to Baltimore, this time as the enemy

May 3, 2001

BALTIMORE - Some will affectionately yell ``Moose!'' Others will boo.

Former Baltimore Orioles ace Mike Mussina expects a mixed reaction Sunday when he pitches at Camden Yards for the first time as a member of the New York Yankees.

``I'm assuming it's going to be a little bit of everything,'' Mussina said Thursday.

Mussina pitched for 10 years with the Orioles before signing a $88.5 million, six-year deal with the Yankees on Nov. 30. Baltimore fans who cheered the right-hander for a decade were dismayed and heartbroken when he left to join the hated Yankees.

``I play for the Yankees. People who grow up in Baltimore, they can't stand the Yankees,'' Mussina said. ``Whether I played here 10 years or 30 years, I'm playing for the Yankees now.

``This would be a high-tension series even without me being on the Yankees' side.''

Yankees manager Joe Torre spent five years facing Mussina when the pitcher was with the Orioles. He wasn't quite sure which way the Baltimore crowd would lean on Sunday afternoon.

``I'd like to believe that, with what Mike Mussina meant to this club, there would be a lot of respect in the ballpark,'' Torre said. ``I heard several guys say that you have to figure out whether it's `Boo' or `Moose,' so at least you've got a cop-out here. But Mike Mussina is a class guy. Watching him mature before he got to the Yankees, you could see he was working at his trade.''

Mussina needed some time to get used to his new team and pitching in pinstripes. With that experience behind him, Mussina must now deal with the unusual feeling of facing Baltimore for the first time.

``It will be strange pitching against the Orioles,'' he said. ``It's kind of nice that I get to watch a couple games first before I have to go out and do it.''

Mussina's first adjustment came when he walked into the stadium Thursday.

``It's different coming in here, going past the home side and going to the visitor's side,'' he said. ``I mean, you play someplace for 10 years and habits are tough to break.''

Mussina stressed that he would have been glad to return to the Orioles if owner Peter Angelos would have been more aggressive in working out a new contract. He said the Orioles should have approached him about an extension years ago, and figured he was on his way out after the team failed to work out a new deal in August or September.

Mussina saw the same thing happen to Roberto Alomar and Rafael Palmeiro, who left as free agents after waiting for the Orioles to make a serious offer.

``I knew the Orioles were going to let it play out, like they had in every other situation,'' Mussina said. ``There was a huge window of opportunity to sign me to an extension.''

Mussina met with reporters long before Thursday's game so he could attend a pitchers' meeting. The topic was how to pitch to the Orioles, a subject that Mussina surprisingly knew little about.

``I played here 10 years but didn't pay much attention to how to get my teammates out,'' he said.

Although Mussina ranks in the top 10 in almost every Orioles pitching category, his No. 35 won't be retired. It's already been given to rookie right-hander Josh Towers.

Towers, who was 14 when Mussina first pitched for Baltimore, realizes the significance of the number on his back.

``It's an honor to wear No. 35, especially a year after he leaves,'' Towers said. ``The stuff he was able to accomplish, it makes me proud to have the number. I like it a lot.''

This weekend, however, it's the other 35 -- the one in the road gray uniform of the New York Yankees -- who will receive the most attention from Baltimore fans.

Mussina may be perceived as the enemy, but Camden Yards will always be home to him.

``I could never say this is foreign territory. That's a pretty harsh statement from somebody who played here 10 years,'' he said. ``It's a familiar setting, a place I got to pitch at a lot. I'm just coming out of the other dugout now, wearing the grays rather than the whites.''


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