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Mussina still puzzled

Monday August 12, 2002

NEW YORK -- This has been a puzzling season for Mike Mussina. The right-hander, who spends much of his time in the clubhouse working on crossword puzzles, has not been able to find the solution to his own baffling problems on the mound.

Mussina earned his 14th victory of the season on Sunday, taking an 8-5 decision against the Oakland A's, but he allowed four runs over six innings, as his ERA crept even closer to 5.00.

"It's everything, its not one thing," Mussina said. "It's not always picking the wrong pitch or it's not simply that [my] mechanics are messed up. It's not [that my] location is poor. It's just a little bit of everything."

Mussina (14-6,4.95 ERA) has given up 10 or more hits in each of his last three starts -- the first time in his career that he has been roughed up to that extent. He is 5-4 with a 6.26 ERA over his last 11 starts.

Mussina gave up three runs in the second inning Sunday as Terrence Long's titanic upper-deck home run tied the game after the Yankees spotted Mussina a 3-0 lead. After that inning, Mussina held Oakland to one run over the next four, looking more like the pitcher his team is accustomed to seeing.

"I thought he was good," said manager Joe Torre. "He had the one bad inning, and it comes down to one thing -- location. He left a cutter up to Long and he hit a home run. He battled, got a lot of ground balls at the end, and, to me, that's the kind of pitcher he is. I think we're making progress."

Mussina wasn't sure that Sunday's performance was progress, but he thought that the rest of this season could be a struggle for him.

"It's been that way the whole year," Mussina said. "I think I've come to realize that it's going to be ongoing, and it will be work all year. It's been 4 1/2 months now, and it's going to be that way."

The interesting question for New York will come in October. Should the Yankees reach the postseason for the eighth consecutive season, Torre and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre will have to make a decision on their four starting pitchers. Assuming they are healthy, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte figure to be sure things. But Mussina will be battling David Wells and Orlando Hernandez -- both big-time playoff pitchers in the past -- for the final two spots.

"Maybe if I accept the fact that it's not that easy to throw the ball to the outside corner, that this is just the way it's going to have to be this season, maybe it will let things fall into place," Mussina said. "You try to attack a problem in different ways. If one way doesn't work, you attack it a different way, try to solve the problem."


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