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"Moose" a perfect fit for Yanks

Oct. 18, 2001

SEATTLE -- Mike Mussina may have an $80 million contract but he is still a small-town boy from Pennsylvania. He may be spotted reading Forbes magazine instead of FHM or Maxim but he is still one of the guys. And, he may have graduated from Stanford early with a degree in economics but he still likes to play games.

In short, Mussina is perfect for the New York Yankees.

The 32-year-old right hander takes a business-like approach to the sport of baseball and just happens to be pretty good.

Those two qualities alone would have made him a good fit for a team that wants to win year after year by bringing in top-quality players, letting them do what they do best and then moving them along. That's the business-like approach to the game of baseball and it only works with players who happen to be pretty good.

But somewhere along the way, the Yankees began to like Mike Mussina. Not just because he's pretty good. But because he's a pretty good guy.

"When we first started talking to him about playing for the Yankees, our conversations were pretty straightforward and just what you would expect,'' said Yankees Manager Joe Torre. "But over the course of the season, I've had a chance to have dinner with Mike a couple of times and spend some time with him. That's when you find out that he is not only intelligent and a good ball player but has a good sense of humor.''

Torre said he believes Mussina is a little shy or reserved and it took a little while for him to adjust to New York and the massive amounts of media attention.

You see, in his 10 years in Baltimore, Mussina dealt regularly with only a couple of beat writers, a persistent radio reporter and a well-groomed TV guy who showed up every other Friday.

It's a little different in New York.

On his first day in Spring Training, he went to Legends Field in Tampa just to put some things in his locker and meet his new mates. He sat down at a table for a minute and immediately was surrounded by reporters three deep and elbowing each other for access.

When Mussina, or any Yankee, emerges from the shower, the mob is nice enough to wait for the pants to go on but once the victim turns around he is immediately surrounded and interrogated beyond reason.

Mussina was so unprepared for the routine that after one start in Spring Training this season, in which he had been hit in the leg by a line drive and left the game early, he got treatment, showered and went home.

He didn't think anybody would want to talk to him.

Now, he's starting to get used to the constant attention. It helps that, after a rocky start this season, Mussina finished as maybe the best right-handed pitcher in baseball, complete with near-perfect game and sterling playoff effort.

At an ALCS press conference on Wednesday, Mussina spent time playfully jousting with a veteran writer from Boston, who asked a rambling two-part question that was, at best, convoluted.

Mussina listened and then finally pulled his hat down over his eyes.

"Could you repeat the first question please?'' Mussina joked.

The reporter thought he was serious and started to ask the questions again but Mussina just laughed.

"I knew you got it,'' the reporter said.

Mussina answered the first question and then the reporter mentioned the second question again, which was about Mussina's near-perfect game in Boston on Sept. 2.

"Are we still talking about that?'' Mussina joked.

The answer was yes because after that game in Boston, when Mussina had come within one strike of baseball immortality, he was very emotional. And he doesn't often let his emotions spill on the locker room floor.

"Yeah, I was upset about (losing the perfect game),'' Mussina said. "It was tough to talk about right after the fact that day, the next day, maybe that week.

"But six weeks later, it really got me going through September and October because I've pitched pretty well since then. If I would have gotten 27 guys out in a row, who knows what it would have meant after that, but I didn't.''

Mussina prefers to save his emotional displays for truly special times, such as when he is pitching a shutout in the playoffs but a base runner is headed home and shortstop Derek Jeter makes a defensive play for the ages.

"There are moments in a lot of games when you need to control your emotions and there are moments when you need to release your emotions,'' Mussina said of Jeter's bare-handed catch and back-handed flip to catcher Jorge Posada in Game 3 of the ALDS. "And that was a moment we got to release some emotion and it's really helped us the last two games after that.''

Mussina's 17-11 record and 3.15 ERA this season showed the Yankees and their fans that Mussina is a winner but it was his performance down the stretch and so far in the playoffs that has endeared him to all who prefer pinstripes.

"We have a lot of confidence in all of our starters,'' Jeter said. "But especially "Moose'' now because he has been pretty much dominant lately.''

And just one of the guys.


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