|From the Yankees’ side…||09.27.08 at 3:59 pm ET|
Mike Mussina will oppose Daisuke Matsuzaka in Game 1 of tomorrow’s day-night doubleheader. Though the Yankees sank this year when their young pitchers such as Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes failed to take steps forward in their careers, Mussina has enjoyed a remarkable season. He is 19-9 with a 3.47 ERA this year. At 39, he is trying to become the oldest player in big-league history to win 20 games for the first time in his career. It is nothing short of remarkable that he is in this position.
After four starts this year, Mussina was 1-3 with a 5.75 ERA. On the heels of a 2007 season in which he was 11-10 with a 5.15 ERA and earned a brief demotion to the bullpen, the idea that he is attempting to set a new career high in wins is remarkable. The foundation of his success remains precise location and the ability to change speeds. Mussina has adapted the way in which he achieves those traits over the years.
“He hasn’t changed a whole lot as a pitcher. The only thing that has changed is that he’s trying to vary his speeds a little lower, as opposed to trying to up his speeds. That’s what we all do when we get older,” said Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin, who played with Mussina as a member of the Orioles in 1999 (when Mussina went 18-7) and 2000 (11-10). “I think it’s pretty awesome (that he could win 20). It’s pretty neat because he’s trying to persevere and catch it. It’s been something that’s been very elusive, and now he has a chance.”
There are other milestones that appear within reach for Mussina. He has 269 wins, one short of Hall of Fame spitballer Burleigh Grimes for 33rd on the all-time list. (Grimes, it is worth noting, was the last pitcher who was legally permitted to throw the spitter.)
Mussina has been incredibly durable over the year. He has recorded at least 27 starts in each of the last 14 seasons, dating to the year of the season-ending strike in 1994. That being the case, if he decides that he wants to play for another two to three years, it is clear that he could reach 300 wins.
“It’s a possibility. Absolutely,” said Timlin. “It would only take a couple more years of winning 15 or 16.”
If Mussina decides that he wants to continue pitching, he could put himself into an elite pantheon of pitchers. But that is a matter for another day. On Sunday, Mussina will be pitching in the same setting where he came within a single strike of a perfect game in 2001. This time, he will try to capture a white whale that has eluded him over the course of his 18-year career.
“I don’t know if he’s going to shut it down (after this year). I don’t know what he’s going to do,” said Timlin. “But he’s towards the end of his career. It’s amazing what patience will do.”
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