While it’s been trending in that direction for a couple years, it was slightly surprising that Mike Mussina was voted into the Hall of Fame this year. It was expected to be close, but he managed to just squeak over the 75% threshold by seven votes in his sixth year on the ballot.
Now that he’s in, it’s time to celebrate Moose. He had a long and productive career in pinstripes, and here are the five best moments from his time as a Yankee.
5. “No, stay there”
On May 31, 2006, Mussina was working on a complete game shutout against the Tigers when Placido Polanco reached on an error in the ninth. Two batters later, Magglio Ordonez singled Polanco home to get Detroit on the board. Even though there were two outs, manager Joe Torre started to get up to go to the mound and remove Mussina from the game. This then happened:
4. Finally a 20 game winner
For good reasons, the pitcher win is not held in as high of an esteem as it once was. Seasons like Jacob deGrom’s in 2018 show that a team’s offensive performance also plays a huge role in a pitcher getting a win. A mediocre win-loss record does not mean a pitcher is having a mediocre season. However, if you win 20, odds are decent that a pitcher is having a good season.
Twice Mussina had gotten to 19 wins, but had never won a 20th. In 1995, he won his 19th game in his final start of the season. The following year, he was sitting on 19 going into his final start that season. Mussina held the Blue Jays to one run in eight innings on just four hits and left with a lead. However, Armando Benitez blew the save in the ninth. The Orioles ended up winning the game, but Mussina got a no decision.
Flash forward 12 years later, and Mussina won a 19th game for the third time on September 23, 2008. Five days later, he got the ball in the first game of a season-ending doubleheader in Boston. He would give up just three hits in six shutout innings. The Yankees’ bullpen made things a little bit messy, but held onto the lead. The Yankees tacked on some insurance runs, and the lead Mussina left with was safe for good. He won 20 games for the first time in his career.
It wasn’t just his win total that was good in 2008, he had an excellent season on the whole. Despite that, Mussina would retire after the season. Little did we know at the time that his first 20th win would also be his last ever win.
My most vivid Mike Mussina memory is his final game, inbetween games of a doubleheader at Fenway Park. He was finally a 20-game winner, and though we didn't know it, he had decided to retire. He was munching on some greasy McDonald's fries and seemed just so, so satisfied.— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) January 23, 2019
3. 2003 ALCS Game Seven
Roger Clemens allowed three runs in the first three innings, and then gave up a home run, a walk, and a single to start the fourth. Joe Torre decided to turn to Mussina to try and get him out of that jam. He obliged by striking out Jason Varitek, and inducing a Johnny Damon double play to escape the fourth. His day wasn’t done there.
In the fifth, he allowed a pair of one-out singles, but retired the next two hitters, including a strike out of David Ortiz. Mussina threw one more scoreless inning in the sixth. The Yankees were still trailing when Mussina was replaced to start the seventh, but he kept them in striking distance for when the comeback happened.
As good as it was, Mussina’s relief appearance isn’t even the most famous in that game. It would be overshadowed by some other guy who was voted into the Hall of Fame this year.
2. Yankees playoff debut
Mussina was no stranger to the playoffs when he came over to the Yankees in 2001. He wasn’t great in 1996, but was he excellent in 1997. Across four playoffs starts that year, he allowed a total of just four runs in 29 innings. His performance in game six of the ‘97 ALCS should have kept the Orioles alive, but their offense was held scoreless. Baltimore lost that game, and the series, in extra innings.
Mussina wouldn’t return to the playoffs until his first year in the Bronx in ‘01.
His first playoff game as a Yankee came in game three of that year’s ALDS against Oakland. With the Yankees down 0-2 and on the verge of elimination, Mussina allowed just four hits and a walk in seven scoreless innings. It took a famous play to keep Oakland off the board in his final inning, however. Mariano Rivera finished off the last two innings, and the Yankees won the game and eventually, the series.
Mussina’s 72 game score in that performance was one of the best by a Yankee in the playoffs in this century.
1. Almost Perfect
It seems weird to make his best moment also arguably the most painful one, but it feels like the right answer.
On September 2, 2001, Mussina took on the Red Sox at Fenway Park in a Sunday night game. Former Yankee David Cone held his old team scoreless for eight innings, before an Enrique Wilson double finally got them on the board in the top of the ninth. That was big, but not as important as what was happening in the bottom halves of the innings.
Mussina retired the first 26 Boston hitters he faced, striking out 13 in the process. He was just one out away from a perfect game. The Red Sox sent up Carl Everett as a pinch-hitter to try and keep the game alive. Mussina got within a strike of finishing it off, but Everett managed to drop a single into left-center field to break up the perfecto. It was the second time Mussina had gotten within three outs of a perfect game only to fall just short.
While the perfect game was over, it was still only a 1-0 game, so Mussina still had work to do. Trot Nixon was at the plate as the now potential winning run. Nixon worked the count full, but Mussina got him to ground out to complete one of the most impressive complete game one-hit shutouts you’ll ever see.
He put up a 98 game score in the outing, which is tied for the seventh best game score in Yankees’ history. It is tied with two other performances, one of which was David Wells’ perfect game in 1998.
Because he did not get that last out, Mussina’s outing won’t get put in any montages like the Wells and Cone one are. However in terms of pure impressiveness, it’s arguably just as good as those two.
There are plenty of other good moments and performances that didn’t make the top five. Feel free to share your favorites!