10/20/2003 1:00 AM ET
Youth battles experience in Game 3
Momentum is only as good as your next starting pitcher. But the two Game 3 starters in the 2003 World Series have already given their teams some world-class boosts in the category of postseason momentum.
By Michael Bauman / MLB.com
They don't have much else in common at this juncture, but they do share that much. Mike Mussina, 34, of the Yankees is an established star, with 199 career victories. Josh Beckett, 23, of the Marlins, has yet to pitch a complete season in the Majors due to injuries in each of the last two years. But he has been making his postseason mark in a hurry.
The World Series is even at 1-1, with two games that featured one team being exceptional and the other one doing very little. In the opener, the Marlins were bunting and running and small-balling their way to a victory. Game 2 was over early, but in a completely opposite direction. The Yanks pounded the ball and got a brilliant performance from Andy Pettitte.
Which team seizes the moment as the Series moves to Pro Player Stadium on Tuesday night? The answer often comes down to which starter takes command of the game. Either Beckett or Mussina would be fully capable of taking this Series in the direction his team wants to go.
Beckett has already turned an entire Championship Series around for his club. With the Marlins trailing the Chicago Cubs, 3-1, he produced nothing less than a dominant performance, a two-hit shutout. This was a surprise in the sense that it was the first complete game of his professional career, but it was not a surprise given his immense talent. He throws in the high 90s, and on the occasions when he is throwing his breaking ball for strikes, he can be, as he was in Game 5 of the NLCS, nigh unto unhittable.
Beckett then pitched in with four strong innings of relief in Game 7, as the Marlins came from behind to win the game and the series. In the space of three postseason days, Beckett had grown exponentially in the view of the baseball world, expanding all the way from potential to production.
Mussina's 2003 postseason work had not been as glossy as Beckett's last two appearances, until it became absolutely necessary. Mussina was 0-3 in three postseason starts, but when duty called again, he answered. He had never once appeared in relief during his illustrious career, but when the Yankees needed somebody to keep the Red Sox at bay in Game 7 of the ALCS, Mussina was ready, willing and able. He gave the Yankees three innings of shutout relief, giving them time and quality innings, allowing them to remain within range before their eighth-inning comeback and eventual 11th inning victory.
Mussina is a pitching craftsman of the first rank, throwing a dazzling array of pitches, all of them with first-rate command. So what shapes up in Game 3 is a possible classic within the Fall Classic, the young flamethrower against the veteran master, with the upper hand in this World Series at stake.
Ordinarily, these circumstances tend to favor the more experienced pitcher, but Beckett does not appear to be particularly susceptible to postseason jitters.
It was suggested to him Sunday that a young team might be intimidated, playing against the Yankees in the World Series.
"Why is that?" Beckett said calmly.
"The history, they have all these big names on the team, $185-million payroll," the questioner said.
"We're not worried about that," Beckett said. "We're baseball players. We're gonna play baseball. Doesn't matter who we're playing against."
And for both Josh Beckett and Mike Mussina, when they are at the top of their game, the identity of the opposition really doesn't seem to matter.
The overall matchup holds plenty of promise, as well. The Yankees were baseball's best team on the road in 2003. The Marlins set a franchise record for victories at home. The Marlins are not awed by being in the presence of the mighty Yankees. The Yankees are not taking the Marlins at all for granted. This is how it is most enjoyable after two games; both teams making an argument, nothing really decided yet, the Series in the balance, waiting for one team to take charge for a game or two. Or three.
Michael Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.