Mike Mussina is the guy who runs a 4:01 mile, who gets five of
six numbers correct on his lottery ticket and who draws 20 at
blackjack. No active pitcher has more often come so near to
greatness without touching it than Mussina. He's baseball's
answer to Michael Collins, the one astronaut aboard Apollo 11
who flew all that way to the moon and never set foot on it.
Mussina hasn't thrown a no-hitter, yet four times he has pitched
a no-no into the eighth inning, including once last year, when,
with two outs in the ninth, Boston's Carl Everett spoiled his
bid for a perfect game. Mussina hasn't won 20 games, though he
has twice had 19 victories (once in a strike-shortened season).
He hasn't received the Cy Young Award, though he has finished in
the top six in the voting in eight of the past 10 years. He
hasn't won an ERA title, though he missed by only three earned
runs last year, the eighth time in the past 10 seasons that he
finished in the top eight.
Detect a pattern here? Close but no moondust. If it's possible
to have a breakout year at 33 and with a won-lost record
(164-92) that's nearly identical to Sandy Koufax's career mark
(165-87), then New York manager Joe Torre has found the perfect
candidate. "I think Moose is going to have a monster year,"
Torre says. "He just seems more relaxed, more settled in."
Recent high-profile additions Roger Clemens, David Wells and
Chuck Knoblauch were each better in their second season with the
Yankees than in their first. And Mussina, a former Oriole, had
some things to find out last season. "What I learned is that
around here things get done," he says. "A billboard in
centerfield has a little too much white in it? The next day it's
changed. A home run by Montreal that should have been a foul
ball beats us? The next day the screen on the foul pole is
extended down. Even in spring training George Steinbrenner saw
us walking on the concrete hallway outside the clubhouse, and
the next day a mile of green carpet is put down. That's what
makes this place different."
However, when told of Torre's forecast for a big season, Mussina
says, "Hey, if I can throw the ball any better than I did last
year, I'd like to see that. I found a feeling and kept it
through the second half. I knew what pitch was the right pitch
to throw, where it was going and how to get it there."
Including the postseason, Mussina gave up 16 earned runs in his
final 13 starts, going 8-2 with a 1.67 ERA. He fell short of
that elusive 20-win season by three, even though he won either
1-0 or 2-1 a Koufaxian six times and then added another 1-0
victory in what was New York's most crucial game of the year:
Game 3 of the Division Series, when the Yankees were down two
games to none to the A's on the road. "You pitch in that many
low-scoring games, and you're prepared for the playoffs, when
runs generally are going to be hard to come by," Mussina said.
Joining Mussina, Clemens, 39, and the often overlooked Andy
Pettitte, 29, in the New York rotation is Wells, 38, who has
dropped 30 pounds, in part by reducing his consumption of booze
and fried foods. "Except on Sundays," Wells said. "Sunday is my
only day to eat crap."
Mussina should find better run support in his second season with
the Yankees. Free-agent signee Jason Giambi is the first hitter
since Ted Williams to have back-to-back seasons with an on-base
percentage better than .475. Catcher Jorge Posada has regained
strength in his right shoulder after off-season surgery. And
rookie Nick Johnson, who once reached base in more than half his
plate appearances in a minor league season, should upgrade what
was a feeble DH slot last year; only the Angels' and the Royals'
DH's had worse on-base percentages than New York's .320. "That's
just the kind of hitter I've always been--I even took pitches in
Little League," says Johnson, the nephew of Phillies manager
Larry Bowa. "After being up last year [for 23 games], I know I
have to make adjustments. I was a little too patient."
The Yankees' .334 OBP last year was their worst since 1992,
their last losing season. As that efficiency rises, Mussina
should find a better comfort level in pinstripes and, just
maybe, the kind of greatness he has never known. --Tom Verducci
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON Worth the weight? Definitely, says the Bombers' brass, which believes a slimmed-down Wells will beef up the bottom of an already potent rotation.
COLOR PHOTO: M. DAVID LEEDS/GETTY IMAGES VENTURA
Last season Mariano Rivera led the majors with 13 saves in
outings longer than one inning.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Yankees
"Their top four starters have to give them six or seven innings,
because they don't have a lot of depth in the middle of the
bullpen.... Don't get me wrong, I'd take Mariano Rivera, but in
the World Series you saw him come in and be lights-out one
inning and then he had nothing in the second inning. If anything
happens to him, they're in real trouble, because Steve Karsay
can't close. They found that out in Cleveland.... I don't think
he's finished, but Robin Ventura looked terrible this spring.
His bat head was slow, and he had trouble making contact....
John Vander Wal is a good hitter, but he's not an every-day
player. If they plan on using him more than a couple of days at
a time in the outfield, he'll kill them.... I don't see Rondell
White making an impact on this club. He's not a good outfielder,
he can't throw a lick, he doesn't run the way he used to, and
he's an 18- to 20-home-run guy. That's coming down for the
Yankees.... I like Nick Johnson's bat, and he may play some in
the outfield, but I really like his glove at first base. He'll
probably give Jason Giambi a break there sometimes.... Shane
Spencer is a much improved player who should be a regular. If he
is, he'll hit 35 home runs.... I really like Jorge Posada. I've
got his arm rated a six out of eight, with five being about
average, and he's actually approaching a seven as he gets his
arm strength back. He's also getting better with his accuracy
and footwork. Once he gets the footwork down, he'll be throwing
guys out all the time."
projected roster with 2001 statistics
PLAYER B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
SS Derek Jeter R 62 .311 21 74 27
CF Bernie Williams S-R 60 .307 26 94 11
1B Jason Giambi L-R 6 .342 38 120 2
C Jorge Posada S-R 74 .277 22 95 2
LF Rondell White R 129 .307 17 50 1
3B Robin Ventura L-R 172 .237 21 61 2
RF Shane Spencer R 122 .258 10 46 4
DH Nick Johnson (R)* L 196 .256 18 49 9
2B Alfonso Soriano R 65 .268 18 73 43
OF John Vander Wal L 227 .270 14 70 8
IF Enrique Wilson S-R 331 .211 2 20 0
PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA
RH Roger Clemens 4 20 3 6.7 1.26 3.51
RH Mike Mussina 11 17 11 6.7 1.07 3.15
LH Andy Pettitte 46 15 10 6.5 1.32 3.99
LH David Wells 86 5 7 6.3 1.40 4.47
RH Orlando Hernandez 115 4 7 5.7 1.39 4.85
PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA
RH Mariano Rivera 9 4 6 50 0.90 2.34
LH Mike Stanton 124 9 4 0 1.36 2.58
RH Steve Karsay 131 3 5 8 1.11 2.35
New acquisition (R) Rookie B-T: Bats-throws IPS: Innings
pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched PVR: Player Value
Ranking (explanation on page 154)
*Triple A stats Combined AL and NL stats
seventh season with New York
first in AL East
IN THE FIELD
with defensive ratings