Mike Mussina was never quite the center of attention during his 18-year, Hall-of-Fame career. Up until this week, heartbreak and coming up just short of a major milestones sort of made up Mussina’s M.O. He even just barely missed being valedictorian of his graduating class!
Regardless, Mussina still found a way to be great in his own right even when things didn’t break his way. Let’s take a look at some of the most heartbreaking moments of Mussina’s career...
5. Physical Pain
From what I can tell, there’s no video of the come-backer that broke Mike Mussina’s nose, so this will have to do. After plunking Bill Haselman, Mussina got tackled and ended up on the bottom of a massive pile of O’s and M’s. Tino Martinez, Randy Johnson, and Jeff Nelson were all Mariners players and heavily involved in this brawl, but later ended up as Mussina’s teammates with the Yankees. Awkward.
4. No Cy Young
Even though he was often the best starting pitcher on his team, Mussina had the unique misfortune of pitching in the American League alongside bigger stars such as Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and Dennis Eckersley. As such, he was always seemed to fall just short of snagging a Cy Young Award. In 1999, Mussina finished second in the voting, but there was simply nobody could beat out Pedro Martinez for the award that year.
In 2001, Mussina probably should have won the award, but he finished fifth in voting. In the American League that season, Mussina was first in WAR and FIP and second in ERA, ERA+, K/BB, and WHIP.
All told, Mussina placed in the top-6 a total of nine times. He’s only one of ten Hall of Fame pitchers to never win a Cy Young.
3. 2007 Season
This season was hands-down the worst of Mussina’s career, and the last time his team would be in the playoffs. At least part of Mussina’s woes stemmed from injuries to his left hamstring and right foot early in that season. While the hamstring eventually got better, the foot wasn’t ever really back to 100% until the offseason.
Mussina ended up losing his starting rotation spot and did not make a start against Cleveland in the ALDS. In Game Four, he allowed two earned runs while pitching 4.2 relief innings after Chien-Ming Wang failed to get out of the second inning, but the damage was mostly done. Wang’s four surrendered runs to open the game put the Yankees in a hole, and they were unable to dig themselves out of it. Mussina’s relief appearance was the last time he’d pitch in the playoffs, which brings us to our next point.
2. No World Series Rings
Poor timing really plagued Mussina’s career. A lack of analytically-mind Cy Young voters likely kept him from a Cy Young in 2001. A poor performance in 2007 kept Mussina from being a contributor in his final playoff series, and most disappointingly, Mussina’s entire Yankee career was spent during an eight-year World Series drought.
In 2001, Mussina joined the Yankees who were fresh off their run of four World Series victories in five years. When they faced off against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the ‘01 World Series, Mussina took the ball in Games One and Five. In Game One, he gave up five runs — three earned — in three innings on the way to a Yankee loss. He was much better in Game Five, allowing just two earned over eight while striking out ten. Mussina would have been on the hook for another loss if not for Scott Brosius’s game-tying blast in the ninth.
Mussina had another shot at the World Series in 2003, in which he was brilliant in the Yankees’ Game Three victory. Mussina threw seven and struck out nine while only giving up one run. Had the Yankees gone on to a seventh game, Mussina would have started and who knows how things might have turned out then.
1. Near Perfect game
Finally, the best but most painful part of Mussina’s career has to be his two near-perfect games. The first took place in 1997, while Moose was still a member of the Orioles. On May 30, he took the mound at Camden Yards to face the eventual AL Champions. With the exception of Julio Franco at DH and Brian Giles on the bench, Cleveland ran out their entire lineup that day, including Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, David Justice, and Sandy Alomar Jr. For 8.1 innings, Mussina was perfect. Then Sandy Alomar singled, ruining Mussina’s first real chance at history.
To make matters even worse, Mussina had perfection in his sights again in 2001, this time as a member of the Yankees. The first 26 Red Sox hitters went back to the dugout without reaching base, with 13 striking out. With one out to go, pinch hitter Carl “Dinosaurs didn’t exist” Everett came to the plate. With two outs and two strikes, he singled to ruin another Mussina perfect game bid. Mussina retired as the only pitcher to lose two perfect games in the ninth inning, and he’s just one of nine pitchers to win at least 270 games and not have a no-hitter.
It’s probably not a good idea to solicit more painful Mussina memories in the comments, but I’m sure you’ll let me know either way. I’ll leave by saying this: thanks to Mussina, I spent a good part of my childhood trying to figure out how to throw a knuckle-curve. Even if I never did quite figure it out, I had a great time along the way. Thanks for the memories, Moose, and congratulations.