10/19/2004 2:09 AM ET
Moose gives Yanks gritty outing
Right-hander survives tough first inning
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
|Catcher Jorge Posada chats with Mike Mussina during the first inning Monday. (Al Bello/Getty Images)
BOSTON -- Mike Mussina did all he could Monday night to derail a Red Sox miracle machine gaining steam and believers.
In a couple of days, he may be doing even more than he's capable to yank the Yankees out from under the wheels of that locomotive.
Having Mussina start Game 5 of the ALCS wasn't enough for the Yankees, whose bullpen could not convert the 4-2 lead Moose guarded into the seventh.
But the Yankees may have a little bit of Mussina at the end of a potential Game 7, especially if expected rains further extend this suddenly gripping playoff series.
New York's absolutely drained bullpen -- Boston's is, as well -- will need all the help it can get in the upcoming Yankee Stadium phase of this theatre.
|Mike Mussina fanned seven Red Sox in Game 5 to take over the top spot on the career strikeout list for the American League Championship Series, eclipsing Roger Clemens' 61:||Pitcher
|Mussina's 66 LCS strikeouts trail only Clemens' 68 and John Smoltz's 89, which are also tops in the NLCS. Pitchers playing in the 2004 ALCS in boldface.|
Mussina did not know whether he'd be able to reprise his contributions of a year ago, when he pitched three relief innings in Game 7 against Boston.
"All year long, you wouldn't consider returning to the mound after your start," said Mussina, the tone of his voice suggesting that October makes that unique demand. "And with no off-days scheduled, I don't know.
"I'm sure we'll be running out there everyone who can get an out. I'll just have to wait and see how I feel (Tuesday). But it'll be hard. But with the way our pitching is, who knows?"
Mussina spent 2 1/2 hours pitching on Monday, and 3 1/2 hours watching. The watching was harder.
"The last eight innings, they were very tough to watch on the bench," he said. "We had chances to win, but it didn't work out. We couldn't get the big hit.
"The last two have been hard to watch. They came back against us twice, so we're going back to New York and have some more baseball to play."
Long before Monday's game evolved into bullpen drama, Mussina's six relatively quiet innings had the Yankees on the verge of the World Series.
Six days after being perfect through 6 1/3 innings of his Game 1 start against the Red Sox, Mussina, puzzled by plate umpire Jeff Kellogg's strike zone, got off to an imperfect start.
In a first inning that took 34 pitches out of him, Mussina surrendered three consecutive singles for one run and eventually issued a bases-loaded walk to Jason Varitek to force in another.
"I didn't agree with the strike zone. Let's leave it at that," Mussina said. "Then, it became very good. I can't explain that."
Showing admirable focus, however, once Mussina got through that first inning, he excelled for the next five. All he allowed were a pair of innocuous singles, and he faced only 18 men in that stretch.
When Mark Bellhorn spanked his second pitch of the seventh for a double, Mussina handed off his lead to the bullpen.
"I was getting pretty close" to empty, conceded Mussina, as downcast as anyone in the quiet New York clubhouse.
The Yankees will henceforth be facing a tag team of the Red Sox and their own scarred emotions. It is not easy to twice be within a few outs of a World Series, and to still find yourself playing ball three days later.
"It's not demoralizing," Mussina protested. "We played a hard game. Both teams played a hard game. And they came out on top.
"These are two good clubs. That's why they make it a seven-game series. We have to find a way to dig deep, and come out and play.
"This hasn't hurt our confidence. We knew what they were capable of. We played well and, for the most part, pitched well."
As an eyewitness in the dugout, Mussina was as enraptured as anyone while some of the Yankees' overlooked pitching arms kept the AL pennant within reach for nearly six hours.
"Guys who hadn't been in a game for a while did a fantastic job," said Mussina, referring mainly to left-hander Felix Heredia and erstwhile starter Esteban Loaiza. "They got some big outs in big spots."
Crunch time befell those relief arms. Yet, although his effort was a faded memory by the time David Ortiz sent fans feeling warm-and-fuzzy into the night chill, no one had gotten as many big outs as Mussina.
"He did everything we asked of him," said catcher Jorge Posada. "We wanted him to try to keep us around, give us some solid innings. They got the early lead, but he battled to keep us in the game. That's all we can ask from Moose."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.