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Mussina the man of the moment

Moose gets his playoff shot, but not as he expected
Oct. 13, 2001

OAKLAND -- Mike Mussina made it to October, but this couldn't have been the way he pictured it.

When he signed as a free agent with the three-time defending World Champions last November, Mussina said the biggest factor in coming to New York was his desire to pitch into October. Saturday, Mussina will get that chance, as he faces a win-or-go-home Game 3 against the Oakland A's.

"I felt that New York had as good a chance, if not better, than anybody to still be playing in October," said Mussina. "And here we are. I wanted to come to New York for a chance to win a championship, and we're going to go out and see if we can still pull it off."

After dropping the first two games, New York is in an 0-2 hole that they have not faced in the Joe Torre era in a best-of-five series. The Yankees scored one run in 14 2/3 innings against Oakland's starters, providing Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte no run support to work with.

And the Yankees haven't even faced Oakland's hottest arm.

Game 3 starter Barry Zito was 11-1 with a 1.32 ERA in his final 13 starts of 2001, winning nine straight decisions to finish the season. That said, Mussina may have to throw up a scoreboard full of zeroes to give his team a shot to play on Sunday. Even one run may be too much against a team that has not lost a game at Network Associates Coliseum since August 24.

"We have to try to score some runs early, relax at the plate and wait for good pitches," said Tino Martinez. "If we can give our pitcher something to work with, it will put a little pressure on their hitters."

"He's been our best pitcher over the last few weeks," said Derek Jeter. "He's had a lot of success and we expect him to go out and give us an opportunity to win. We just have to score runs."

Of course, a lack of run support is nothing new to the 31-year-old, who had the lowest run support of any New York starter this season. Not that it bothered him down the stretch, as Mussina did not allow a run in six of his final nine starts, going 6-1 with a 1.31 ERA.

"I'm going to pitch like I've been pitching all year, try to take it as any other game," Mussina said. "If I walk out there and think of the ramifications if I don't pitch well, then I won't pitch well. I'll go out there and pitch like it's a game in the middle of July."

Mussina's first postseason start for the Yankees could very well be the final game of New York's remarkable five-year run, in which it has won four World Series titles. Mussina signed a six-year contract to play in pinstripes, but this will likely be the only season he will play on the squad that won three straight World Series rings.

With the Yankees one game from elimination, there is a good chance that Paul O'Neill, Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius and Chuck Knoblauch are playing their final games for the Bronx Bombers.

"We know that there are some people that may not be here next year, but I don't think that anyone has really sat down and thought about it," Mussina said. "We think we're still going to be playing after the next couple of days, so we're going to take that attitude out there and try to play a good ballgame."

For Mussina, this will be his chance to make his mark as a Yankee. Andy Pettitte did it in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series. Orlando Hernandez did it in Game 3 of the 1998 ALCS. Roger Clemens did it in Game 4 of the 2000 ALCS. Now, with the Yankees' dynasty on the brink of elimination, Mussina has the chance to extend his team's dream for another day.

"We have to go out there and play like it's one ballgame," Mussina said. "We can't concern ourselves with the fact that three hours after it starts it might be over. We'll play our best game, and when it's over, hopefully we're still standing."


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