10/03/2002 5:11 pm ET
Early slump never whipped Moose
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- Mike Mussina still sounds a little lost when the subject of his mysterious slump comes up. This is a man who has spent the bulk of his career baffling opposing hitters, so forgive him if he doesn't quite understand why he was the baffled one for so many months this season.
All Mussina knows is that he had a strong September, and when it was all said and done, the numbers (18-10, 4.05, .252 opponents batting average) didn't look much different than usual.
Slump? What slump? The veteran right-hander takes the ball in Game 3 Friday night in Anaheim, hoping to give the Yankees a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
"You know, I fought myself most of the summer to figure out what wasn't right," said Mussina. "It just took a lot of work and perseverance and things like that. Eventually, it all fell into place. If I had really known what it was, I would have found it in May or June, but it took until about the middle of August to start throwing the ball where I felt good about how I was throwing it."
The Yankees feel very good about Mussina for Game 3. It's a good omen. Last year, he drew the start in Game 3 of the Division Series against the A's, and with the Yankees a loss away from elimination, he fired seven shutout innings. Instead of a first-round ouster, Mussina helped insure that the Yankees were playing all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
Whether it was with the Orioles in 1996-97 or the Yankees a year ago, Mussina has always been a tough customer in postseason. In 10 starts, he's 4-2 with a 2.56 ERA. He has 74 strikeouts in 66 2/3 innings.
Manager Joe Torre, who probably leads the league in patience, never stressed too much about Mussina's in-season slump.
"As much as Mike seemingly struggled for part of the year, every time I gave him the ball I expected knockout results," Torre said. "So the one thing I never did lose was the comfort zone or confidence I had in him."
Mussina, though troubled by the problems he was having, has been around long enough to know that slumps happen even to the elite pitchers. It was the matter-of-fact knowledge that probably allowed him to break out of it.
"I'm not surprised there's up and downs, everybody has ups and downs in this game," Mussina said. "I feel like I'm throwing the ball as well as I've thrown it all year."
It's important for the Yankees that he continues that trend. They haven't had the starting pitching they've been accustomed to in this series. Roger Clemens was so-so in Game 1, Andy Pettitte was worse than that in Game 2. The Yankees always go as far as their starters take them, so Mussina will try and put his stamp on that destination Friday night.
"I will just try and pitch the game I've been pitching the last few weeks," he said. "I didn't face these guys all year."
But he hopes to leave them with a not so pleasant lasting impression.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. He can be reached at Ian.Browne@mlb.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its
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