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Mussina sings the long-ball blues
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10/08/2003 10:34 PM ET 
Mussina sings the long-ball blues
Gives up three homers for first time in playoffs
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Yankees skipper Joe Torre relieves Mike Mussina during the sixth inning Wednesday. (Kathy Willens/AP)
David Ortiz's HR: 56K | 300K
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NEW YORK -- Before Wednesday's game, Mike Mussina didn't want to make a big deal out of his start.

That was a tough one to sell, considering it was Game 1 of the American League Championship Series and it was his Yankees pumped up to once again display dominance over their bitter rivals, the Boston Red Sox.

Not to mention the fact that close to 57,000 rabid fans and everyone in the baseball world considered it bigger than life itself.

But Mussina, soft-spoken and intelligent, reiterated that he'd just go out and do what he always did to prepare for a start.

Unfortunately for the right-hander, the Red Sox were more than prepared for Mussina and for the right-field seats of Yankee Stadium, which were visited three times by Boston-blasted baseballs.

It contributed to a final line -- and a final result -- Mussina will probably rather forget.

Mussina suffered the shortest ALCS outing in his career, lasting 5 2/3 innings and giving up three home runs that accounted for the first four of Boston's five runs in the Yankees' 5-2 loss.

In the 14th playoff game of his 13-year career, it was the first time Mussina gave up three long balls in a postseason start.

    Mike Mussina   /   P
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 185
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
Player page
Stats
Splits
Yankees site

"I didn't think my stuff was too bad," Mussina said. "They've got good hitters on that club. They put the ball in play and when they get a pitch, they hit it hard. They came in and played well today."

His manager, Joe Torre, was a bit more specific.

"He wasn't throwing strikes," Torre said. "I guess they were close, but they weren't strikes. And then he got himself in count trouble, and I think this ballclub (the Red Sox), more than most clubs, when you get yourself in a situation where you have to throw strikes, they are going to hurt you."

Mussina's bummer of a series opener came on the heels of a solid but unspectacular seven-inning, three-earned-run loss in Game 1 of the AL Division Series against the Minnesota Twins.

In that game, Mussina watched as the Yankees threw the ball all over the field, making two key errors that led to the loss.

Then Mussina had to wait eight days to pitch again, and Wednesday, Mussina just watched the ball jump off Boston's bats.

His neck-turning exercises started when David Ortiz crushed a full-count fastball into the upper deck in right field of Yankee Stadium to give Boston a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning.

    Jorge Posada   /   C
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 200
Bats/Throws: S/R

More info:
Player page
Stats
Splits
Hit chart
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"He was fighting with mechanics a little bit," Mussina's catcher, Jorge Posada, said. "I told him to be more aggressive, and it was really one pitch that changed the game. He was getting to two strikes and really couldn't put them away. He got Ortiz to 3-and-2 and that was the pitch of the game."

Ortiz entered the game 0-for-21 lifetime against Mussina, and that statistic left the yard in a hurry.

"Yeah, I knew," Ortiz said of his previous history against Mussina. "I won't forget about that. Everything that guy throws is nasty."

But the Red Sox were the nasty ones on this night.

In the fifth, Todd Walker led off with a mammoth solo shot that appeared to have struck the foul pole or a wayward fan. Right field umpire Angel Hernandez originally ruled it a foul ball, but the call was overturned by home plate umpire Tim McClelland.

Three batters later, Manny Ramirez took Mussina to the opposite field, lining a homer that barely cleared the wall in right. All of a sudden, it was 4-0 in favor of the Sox, and that was enough.

Mussina gave up four runs on eight hits while striking out four and walking two. He fell behind on 13 of the 27 batters he faced.

"I wasn't as sharp as I would have liked to have been," Mussina said. "Today was just a battle."

Mussina had given up two homers in a playoff start three times previously:

He was tagged for two solo shots that accounted for his only earned runs while pitching the Baltimore Orioles to a 9-3 win over the Seattle Mariners in the 1997 AL Division Series.

The other two-homer games came in the 2001 World Series against Arizona. He gave up two in three innings in a 9-1 loss to the Diamondbacks in Game 1 and two more in an eight-inning, two-run no-decision in Game 5.

All of that was forgotten after the game, with Mussina and the Yankees saying they remained confident that they would bounce back in the series.

"You don't win a series in one game," Mussina said. "We know that. We've been here before."

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.




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