Staked to a four-run, first-inning lead, things were looking good for Mike Mussina and the Bombers. But the Yankee ace was off his game again. When he was ahead of hitters, he couldn’t put them away; but often, he fell behind them, unable to locate a tepid fastball, and his breaking pitches. Mussina lasted four innings, and allowed six runs on nine hits. He walked two and struck out one. After the game, he told reporters:
“Nobody’s more upset about the way I’m pitching than I am,” said Mussina, who unraveled again in the Yankees’ 9-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Tuesday night. “I know it’s early. I know it’s only two games and all that. But I don’t pitch like this. It’s upsetting.”
Mussina has not lost the first two decisions of the season since his rookie year. How likely is it that he would pitch so poorly in two consecutive games? Not very. I expect he’ll bounce back shortly. The bullpen wasn’t especially sharp either, though Jorge De Paula was decent.
The top of the first inning felt like a blueprint for how this Yankee offense will operate when they are on their game this season. Kenny Lofton lead off and flew out on a full-count pitch. Victor Zambrano walked Jeter, and then Alex Rodriguez pounded an outside fastball over the right field fence to give the Yankees a 2-0 lead. Next, Giambi worked the count full, fouled off an outside fastball and then walked. Gary Sheffield swatted the first pitch he saw–a fastball eye-high over the plate–into the right-center field stands, and the Yankees were quickly up, 4-zip.
I let out a yell when Sheffield hit his homer. It was a real “Hasan-Chop!” hack. It looked as if the Yankees were going to blow the game open in the bottom of the second. With two out, Jeter and Rodriguez walked and then Giambi just got under one and flew out to the wall. I yelled again, but my “home-run-call” timing was rusty; I snapped my fingers–“drat”–and sat back down.
The Yankees would only collect two more hits after the first inning (Bernie, Giambi), and overall it was a frustrating evening. The worst swings of the night came from Enrique Wilson, who was doing his best Ruben Sierra impression, swining from his heels (ironically, Sierra pinch-hit for Wilson and did his best Wilson impression and went down swinging on a swing that produced a mighty wind). Zambrano walked a career-high seven, in five innings of work, but the Yankees were unable to capitalize.
The one thing that did impress me was Rodriguez’s arm at third. He pegs the ball over to first with power and accuracy. I can’t remember the last Yankee third baseman who had that strong of an arm. Can you?
Elsewhere, Andy Pettitte was not effective in his Astro debut, and Houston fell to the Giants for the second straight night. As I expected, Curt Schilling pitched well in his first start as a Red Sox, and Boston won their first game of the year (Manager Terry Francona spoke with Pedro Martinez, and the first non-story of the year appears to be resolved). And in Atlanta, Kaz Matsui smacked the first pitch of his major league career over the wall in straight-away center for a dinger. He had a perfect night, going 3-3 with two walks as Tom Glavine and the Mets beat the Braves. Mike Piazza also homered and it was a good night for Met fans.