Wednesday, October 24, 2001
NEW YORK -- Mike Mussina didn't know it at the time, but all those matchups earlier this year with Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and David Cone had a purpose.
Mussina should be more than prepared for the type of low-scoring game everyone expects Saturday night when he faces 22-game winner Curt Schilling in the opener of the World Series for the New York Yankees against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"A lot of the games I've pitched the last couple of years have been like that," said Mussina, who received close to the lowest run support in the league this season. "Maybe that's the reason why."
Yankees manager Joe Torre countered Arizona's pair of aces with two of his own Wednesday, picking Mussina to start the opener of the World Series against Schilling and tabbing ALCS MVP Andy Pettitte for Game 2 against Randy Johnson.
In an era when home run records keep falling and offense dominates, the World Series will be decided by some of the game's most powerful pitchers.
Schilling and Johnson get most of the headlines, but Torre's rotation of Mussina, Pettitte, Roger Clemens and Orlando Hernandez is as deep as any.
"We're going to have good pitchers going, too," Torre said. "It's going to be our job to match what they can do and keep the game close. "That's been our formula. It's worked well for us."
The Yankees have had uncanny success when facing the best. But no duo is as tough as Schilling and Johnson, who combined for 43 wins and 665 strikeouts, and formed the most lethal left-right combination since Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1960s.
Coincidentally enough, those Dodgers swept the Yankees in the 1963 World Series behind three complete-game wins from Koufax and Drysdale.
"It's a lot easier managing against those guys than hitting against them," said Torre, who played against the Dodgers aces early in his career. "Drysdale was intimidating from the right side like Randy is from the left side. Even though Koufax did not have the reputation of throwing under your chin like Drysdale, he still intimidated with his stuff like Curt Schilling."
The Yankees haven't faced Schilling or Johnson this year, but have had a lot of practice against comparable pitchers. They won five games started this season by Martinez, and also beat Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, Barry Zito and Freddy Garcia.
They plan on using the same formula against Arizona's aces as they against the others: stay close long enough to get a break or hope the bullpen decides it.
"We'll try to stay with them as long as we can," pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said. "Hopefully, they'll get tired before my guys get tired.
"Moose will have to have the same approach as against Pedro Martinez. There are not going to be a lot of runs. He's been training for this all year because we haven't scored him a lot of runs."
The Yankees averaged only 4.1 runs in Mussina's starts this year, leaving him with a 17-11 record that doesn't reflect his 3.15 ERA -- second best in the AL.
It's that success with little margin for error, along with two big postseason wins, that led Torre to give his newest starter the nod in Game 1.
"When you get to a seven-game series every game is important," Mussina said. "It doesn't matter if you start Game 1, 2 or 4. All of those games are important. There's not any added pressure pitching Game 1. It's pretty exciting. I'm just glad he had enough confidence in me."
Mussina not only has never appeared in a World Series game, he's never been to one either.
"I came to New York for the chance to win a championship," said Mussina, who signed an $88.5 million, six-year deal with the Yankees in November. "We're playing extremely well the last couple of weeks. I'm glad to be a part of this run and I hope we can win it all."
But he didn't appear nervous at all about making his Series debut in Game 1 against Schilling. He rattled off the Yankees' lineup from the first Series he ever watched in 1977 with only one mistake.
He remembered Lou Piniella in right field but left out Reggie Jackson at DH. That might not sit well with Mr. October, who hit three homers in the clinching sixth game and is an adviser to owner George Steinbrenner.
But Mussina had his own reasons for doing it.
"I wanted to get Lou in there and make him feel a little better," he said after the Yankees eliminated Piniella's Seattle Mariners in the ALCS.
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