I previously wrote about Mike Mussina's near perfect game while I was in Australia last spring since it was one of the main reasons I began to intently follow baseball. "Moose" was inducted into the Baltimore Orioles Hall of Fame this year, and hopefully, one day he can be enshrined in Cooperstown as well. Therefore, I present my past writing, as I recalled in 2011.
I was originally going to type this in a comment on my FanShot regarding no-hitters but I decided to just turn it into a FanPost. I can't believe that it has been almost ten years since the Yankees game of September 2, 2001. Mussina's GameScore that night was 98, tied for the best in Yankees history (with Boomer's perfecto and Clemens's 15-strikeout one-hit shutout in the 2000 ALCS).
I remember this game so vividly.
2001 was the first year that I really got into baseball. I had always been a Yankees fan, but I did not really watch the games and had actually become a little disillusioned by it because I was such a horrible player. I finally started watching the games in June of that year though when a relative had it on, and I got hooked. I was at my cousin's birthday party on Sunday, September 2nd and I put the game on, because I wasn't about to miss Yankees-Red Sox.
It was not much of a race down stretch for the division title that year (the Yankees were eight games up at the time) because Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek, and Pedro Martinez were injured for most of 2001 and the Sox actually fired manager Jimy Williams, replacing him with pitching guru and general worm Joe Kerrigan. Mike Mussina easily became my favorite starter on the Yankees, and part of me kind of thought that he was actually having a better season than Clemens. Statistically, it would appear that was right since he had a higher WAR and FIP than any other pitcher in the American League at 7.1 and 2.92. He probably should have won the AL Cy Young Award, and his finest performance of the year happened that fateful night at Fenway Park.
I followed the game closely and rarely left my seat except to grab dinner. (My cousin had a nine-year old cousin on the other side of the family who was just being incredibly irritating by running around in front of the TV and trying to change the channel. It was a huge distraction. I was not pleased.) Moose was dealing that night and just absolutely filthy. He struck out 13 and simply left the Red Sox with no chance. Before the game, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre was surprised by how sharp his curveball broke, saying it went "straight down," a reminder of David Wells's curveball the day he threw a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins in 1998.
David Cone, now on the Red Sox, was also pitching great. It was such an eerie coincidence that he was the last pitcher to throw a perfect game with the Yankees. He held the Yankees scoreless through eight inning on eight strikeouts, dominating his former teammates.
The Yankees finally pushed across a run in the ninth inning in the strangest fashion. By this time, my family had left, and we were listening to the game in the car driving home. Tino Martinez singled to left to lead off the inning, and after Jorge Posada flew out, Paul O'Neill reached on error by second baseman Lou Merloni. Super-sub Clay Bellinger pinch-ran for Tino on third, and of all people, banjo-hitting infielder Enrique Wilson got the decisive hit, a double to right to score Bellinger. Derek Lowe, a reliever before becoming an elite starter, came on to get the last two outs, but Cone had nothing to be ashamed of about this start. It was the last great effort of his career before finishing the season, taking the year off in 2002, and retiring after a brief comeback with the New York Mets.
Mussina kept doing his thing in the ninth, and I finally had gotten home and could watch it on TV. Troy O'Leary pinch-hit for Shea Hillenbrand and hit a hard grounder down toward the right field line. Bellinger, now at first base for Martinez, made a diving stop to prevent the ball from going for a hit and flipped to Mussina at first base for the out. Mussina said after the game that after this brush with luck, he thought "Maybe this time it's going to happen."
Moose struck out Merloni for his 13th strikeout and his 26th out in a row. Now, he was closer than he had ever been to a perfect game, passing his 8 1/3 inning effort from May 30, 1997 while with the Orioles against the Cleveland Indians. I was so keen to see Moose clinch it and to watch my first no-hitter from start to finish. Carl Everett pinch-hit for Joe Oliver, and Moose got him to two strikes. "Jurassic Carl" was not doing well in his second season with the Sox, but he was still a good hitter, so I was on my toes. Next pitch--devastation:
Everett lined it cleanly into left field in front of Chuck Knoblauch and it was over. Moose just shook his head with a wry smile on the mound and finished his one-hit shutout a batter later on a Trot Nixon groundout. After the game, he said, "I'm going to think about it until I retire."
It is still the closest any Yankee has come to a no-hitter, let alone a perfect game, since Cone's masterpiece in 1999.
I was so bummed that Mussina missed his chance at immortality, but I was happy that I decided to tape the game before going to the party, so I have Moose's perfecto on VHS. (Which is awesome, because it's never been a Yankees Classic... probably because it was aired on ESPN, maybe there are legal issues). When I get home from down under, I think I'll watch this game again and relive the mastery ten years later. Here's to you, Moose, and one of the best-pitched games in Yankees history.