Monday, January 10, 2011

Mike Mussina

Michael Cole Mussina was born in December 8, 1968, nicknamed Moose. He is a former Major League Baseball right-handed starting pitcher. He played for the Baltimore Orioles (1991–2000) and the New York Yankees (2001–2008). Mussina spent his entire career in the competitive and high-scoring American League East, won at least 11 games in 17 consecutive seasons – an American League record – and recorded a career .638 winning percentage. Among pitchers, he ranks 33rd in all-time wins (270), 33rd in games started (535), 66th in innings pitched (3,562.2), and 19th in strikeouts (2,813). A five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove winner, Mussina's consistency resulted in six top-five finishes in the voting for his league's Cy Young Award. Mussina was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. At Montoursville Area High School in Montoursville, Pennsylvania he had a 24–4 record with a 0.87 ERA for his baseball team. He also excelled in football and basketball. As a high school senior, Mussina barely missed being valedictorian of his graduating class. According to some reports, he intentionally came up short to avoid delivering a commencement speech. Mussina was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1987 but chose to attend college rather than sign. Mussina was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. At Montoursville Area High School in Montoursville, Pennsylvania he had a 24–4 record with a 0.87 ERA for his baseball team. He also excelled in football and basketball. As a high school senior, Mussina barely missed being valedictorian of his graduating class. According to some reports, he intentionally came up short to avoid delivering a commencement speech. Mussina was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in 1987 but chose to attend college rather than sign.

In three years at Stanford University, Mussina compiled a 31–16 record with a 3.89 ERA. He made two College World Series appearances and was selected as an All-American. His senior year in 1990 was his best, finishing 14–5 with a 0.99 ERA before being drafted again by the Baltimore Orioles, this time as a first round pick (20th overall). Mussina graduated from Stanford in 1990 with a degree in economics. He was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity. In 1992, Mussina's first full season with the Orioles, he finished with an 18-5 record and a 2.54 ERA in 241 innings. His .783 win-loss percentage was tops in the league, and his 1.79 BB/9 was second best behind Chris Bosio. His 4 shutouts were tied for 2nd in the league behind only Boston's Roger Clemens. He finished 4th in the American League Cy Young Award voting that year, and was elected to 1992's All-Star Game, pitching one perfect inning. Mussina struggled in 1993 due to shoulder soreness, which placed him on the DL from July 22 to August 19. Nonetheless, he managed to win 14 games while posting the 7th best winning percentage in the American League. Mussina also allowed 83 earned runs in only 167.2 innings of work for a 4.46 ERA while striking out 117 batters. He was voted onto the All-Star team, however he did not pitch in the game.

There was a controversial incident toward the end of the game when Mussina chose to warm up in the bullpen, despite the fact AL manager Cito Gaston had told him that he would not enter the game. Orioles fans believed Mussina was warming up in preparation to come in and pitch the ninth inning, and when Gaston put Duane Ward in to pitch the ninth inning, the fans at Camden Yards spent the rest of the game chanting "We Want Mike" and booing Gaston very loudly, as the popular slogan "Cito Sucks" was born in Baltimore. The slogan could be seen on t-shirts or heard even years later in Baltimore any time the visiting Blue Jays came to town. Gaston was never treated well by Baltimore fans for the rest of his managerial career and he was subject to death threats for not pitching Mussina in the game.[6] Many believe Mussina threw on his own as a way of publicly showing up Gaston because he was angry at not pitching in the game. However, Mussina said he was just getting his work in, as he was scheduled to throw that day, and it was apparent Gaston did require his services. Mussina returned from the DL in August against the Texas Rangers, only to have the Orioles shut him down three weeks later in mid-September due to lower back pain. Mussina returned to form in 1994, but a player's strike cut his season short, causing him to finish with only 16 wins and 99 strikeouts in 176.1 innings of work. Mussina finished tied for 2nd in the league in wins, and his 3.06 ERA placed him 4th. He was selected to his 3rd consecutive All-Star Game and pitched one inning, giving up one hit while striking out one batter. Mussina finished 4th in voting for that year's American League Cy Young Award. In 1995, Mussina started and won Cal Ripken's record-breaking 2,131st consecutive game on September 6, 1995. Mussina led the league with 19 wins and had one of his finest statistical seasons. He struck out 158 batters in 221.2 innings, allowing only 81 earned runs for an ERA of 3.29. Mussina led the league with four shutouts, and he also allowed a league-low 2.03 BB/9, while his 1.069 WHIP was 2nd only to Seattle's Randy Johnson. Despite his excellent season, Mussina was not elected to that year's All-Star Game, and finished 5th in the American League Cy Young Award voting.

In 1996, Mussina won 19 games and set a new career high of 243.1 innings. His league-leading 36 games started were also a career high. 18 of his starts that year were quality starts. In his last start of the season, the Orioles bullpen blew a late-inning lead, costing Mussina a 20-win season. Mussina also won his 1st Gold Glove that year. Mussina did not start the Opening Day game in 1997 due to elbow tendonitis. He had been the Opening Day starter for the Orioles every year since 1993. Mussina finished the season with a 15–8 record, and his 3.20 ERA was 4th best in the league. In addition, his 218 strikeouts were a career high and established a franchise record. Mussina was again selected for the All-Star team but did not appear in the game. He finished 6th in the American League Cy Young Award voting and won his 2nd consecutive Gold Glove. In the 1997 American League Championship Series he pitched fifteen innings over two starts, allowing one run and four hits, and striking out twenty five—an ALCS record at the time. However, the Orioles failed to score in both of his starts, and Mussina ended up receiving no-decisions for each. Mussina's 1998 season was punctuated by two separate trips to the DL, including for injury resultant from when a ball hit by Sandy Alomar, Jr. struck him on the face and fractured his nose. Mussina still managed to win 13 games and post a 3.49 ERA, with 175 strikeouts in 206.1 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio ratio was good for 2nd in the league. Mussina won his 3rd consecutive Gold Glove with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage out of 50 total chances. On August 4, Mussina struck out Detroit's Bip Roberts for his 1000th career strikeout.

Mussina finished the 2001 season with a 17–11 record. He was 2nd in the league in ERA (3.15), strikeouts (214), shutouts, and strikeout/walk ratio (5.10), and 5th in strikeouts/9 IP (8.42) and complete games. Mussina pitched seven shutout innings in Game 3 of the 2001 American League Division Series and the Yankees went on to win the game 1-0, and eventually the series, becoming the only team to win a division series after losing the first two games at home. Mussina started Games 1 and 5 of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, posting an 0–1 record with a 4.09 ERA in 11 innings pitched. In 2002, Mussina was second in the AL in walks/9 IP (1.65), third in strikeouts (182) and strikeouts/9 IP (7.60), eighth in wins, and ninth in walks/9 IP (2.00). He held batters to a .198 batting average when the game was tied. In 2003, Mussina was third in the league in strikeouts/9 IP (8.18) and strikeout/walk ratio (4.88), fourth in strikeouts (195) and walks/9 IP (1.68), fifth in wins, and eighth in ERA (3.40). He held batters to a .190 batting average when there were two outs and runners in scoring position. During Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, Mussina authored one of the greatest clutch pitching performances of all time. With the Yankees trailing Boston 4–0 Mussina made the first relief appearance of his career. With runners on the corners and nobody out, Mussina struck out Jason Varitek before inducing Johnny Damon to hit into a double play. Mussina went on to pitch 2 more scoreless innings and kept the Yankees within striking distance in a game they later came back to win. In 2004, plagued by a series of injuries, Mussina ended the year with a 12-9 record and a 4.59 ERA. He was fourth in the league in strikeouts (195), and eighth in walks/9 IP (2.19).

In 2007, Mussina became just the ninth player to win 100 games with two different teams—he had won 147 with Baltimore. However, with the Yankees locked in a tight pennant race, Mussina struggled and temporarily lost his spot in the rotation to prospect Ian Kennedy. After just one relief appearance, (the first of his regular season career), Mussina returned as a starter, going 3–0 in his final four starts to end with 11-10 record and a career-high 5.15 ERA. The '07 season for Mussina and Mets' pitcher Tom Glavine was the subject of a 2008 book by John Feinstein, Living on the Black: Two Pitchers, Two Teams, One Season to Remember, showcasing a pivotal season for two New York City pitchers as Mussina nailed down milestone career win #250 with the Yankees and Glavine earned win #300 with the cross-town Mets. In 2008, Mussina started his 8th season with the Yankees as a much-needed veteran of an in experiencedrotation. The year began with difficulty reminiscent of 2007, and many noted a sharp decline in his pitch velocity. Owner Hank Steinbrenner suggested that Mussina should "learn how to pitch like Jamie Moyer," and no longer rely so much on his fastball. Although that remark was widely interpreted as a slight, Mussina joked in response that he could not pitch like Moyer because he did not throw left-handed, and afterwards he excelled, going 9–1 in his subsequent eleven starts. On June 15, he recorded his 10th win of the season, extending his American League record to 17 consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins. On September 18, Mussina notched his 18th victory of the season and lead the Yankees to a 9–2 victory over the first place White Sox in his final start at Yankee Stadium. On September 28, he won 20 games for the first time at the age of 39, with a 6–2 win over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, becoming the oldest first-time 20 game winner in MLB history. He finished 20–9 with a 3.37 ERA. His 67.6% first-strike-percentage was the highest among major league starters.

Early in his career, Mussina's arsenal included a four-seam fastball that topped out at 95 mph, a two-seam fastball, a slider, a changeup, and a plus knuckle-curve. He was always a finesse pitcher, and coming up through the Orioles' organization, he was often compared to Jim Palmer. He received praise for the ability to make in-game adjustments to compensate for days when he was not at his best. Mussina's prolonged success was also the result of his ability to make adjustments. He added a splitter to his repertoire and replaced his knuckle-curve with a more conventional curveball. He became more skilled at changing speeds with his breaking pitches and using different arm angles to confuse batters as well as to compensate for the diminishing speed of his fastball, now at 86–88 mph (tops out at 90.91 mph). During spring training in 2006, Yankees catcher Jorge Posada noticed the unique grip Mussina used for his changeup and promptly hit a home run off it during an intra-squad game. Posada alerted Mussina to the tip-off, and he adjusted the grip. This new changeup was difficult for batters to recognize and was considered a main reason for his success that season.

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