"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Twenty & Out

The Yankees ended the season on a good note, at least — I’m going to pretend the second game of the double header, started by the inimitable Sidney Ponson, isn’t happening; humor me — beating the Red Sox 6-2 and earning Mike Mussina his long-deferred 20-win season. It’s a statistical acheivement that I think we can all agree is an arbitrary and ineffective way of measuring a pitcher’s worth… but still pretty damn sweet. A few weeks ago I didn’t think he was going to pull it off, and I’m very glad I was wrong.

The Red Sox never mounted a sustained threat against Mussina, who allowed two walks — he didn’t allow even three in a single game this year –and three hits in six innings, using just 73 pitches. He left the game then, surprisingly, with a three-run lead, courtesy of a Xavier Nady fly ball that had bounced off the top of the wall by the Pesky Pole and into the stands for a home run. Mussina explained afterwards that his elbow was still sore from the comebacker it took in his last start; I figured that was probably the case, because otherwise you’d have expected him to lunge at Joe Girardi with a bat sometime during the eighth inning, when Joba Chamberlain, Brian Bruney, and Damaso Marte allowed two runs and looked like they might be about to collectively blow it. No jury would’ve convicted him.

But Mariano Rivera came to the rescue (of course), entering the game with the tying run on base and, calcified shoulder and all, nailing down a win for Mussina for the 49th time. And Mussina wasn’t sweating it, at that point: "I knew with Mo in the game, it was going to be all right." Me, I still half expected Carl Everett to pop out of the Fenway shadows and ruin everything. Instead, the Yankees tacked on three insurance runs off Jonathan Papelbon in the top of the ninth, and whatever else fell apart this season, at least this one thing went right.

After eight years with the Yankees, Mussina says he’ll take some time now to decide if he wants to keep pitching. Personally I’d be happy to see him back, but at the same time, it’s very rare for an athlete to walk away at the absolute top of their game; if Moose pulled it off, I’d have a ton of respect for that decision.

UPDATE: So the Yanks went ahead and played the second game of the doubleheader, despite my protestations, and it was actually somewhat dramatic — as dramatic as a meaningless late-September Spring Training game can be, anyway. All the scrubs were in, and Sidney Ponson pitched very well, I suspect just to spite me.

The Yankees were down 3-2 with two outs in the ninth when Robinson Cano drove in the tying run. But Jose Veras couldn’t stave off the Sox in the tenth; he loaded the bases, someone named Jonathan Van Every singled home Alex Cora, and the Sox won 4-3. I say we all just agree to consider Mussina’s win the end of the 2008 season and leave it at that.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver