10/22/2003 1:46 AM ET
Yankees finally support Mussina
Right-hander gets first career World Series win
MIAMI -- Mike Mussina hadn't just seen this movie before.
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
The Yankees right-hander had been the director, producer, lead actor, screenwriter, costume designer, gaffer and best boy.
Once again, the script said Mussina would bring his game to the park in the playoffs, pitch well enough to win, and take a hard-luck loss when his team couldn't score enough runs to support his cause.
With the World Series knotted at a game apiece and the venue shifting to South Florida, Mussina entered Tuesday night's Game 3 with the daunting task of going pitch-for-pitch with the hottest hurler in baseball, 23-year-old Marlins prodigy Josh Beckett.
Mussina responded with his best effort of the postseason so far, escaping a few jams en route to a brilliant seven innings.
On cue, the Yankees' bats fell silent once again, but in a new surprise ending to the story of Mussina's recent life, they came alive at the right time and gave their leading man a milestone win by the score of 6-1.
"I feel good about it," Mussina said. "It was a big game for us coming down here with their best guy going. We had to battle and fight and kept clawing our way through it, and we got the win."
Yes, for the first time this year, Mike Mussina has a playoff win, and for the first time in his career, he's a winner in a World Series game.
It didn't come without a suspenseful plot twist, of course.
Through 7 1/3 innings, New York could only muster three hits off Beckett, and all three were by Derek Jeter.
But they delivered in the eighth.
Jeter hit a one-out double, forcing Florida manager Jack McKeon to pull Beckett, who had thrown 108 pitches, and go to rookie left-hander Dontrelle Willis.
Willis faltered a bit, walking Jason Giambi and surrendering a deep fly ball by Bernie Williams that allowed Jeter to take third.
The Yankees then assumed control of the game when Hideki Matsui slapped an RBI single to left field for a 2-1 lead.
Aaron Boone gave Mussina a little insurance with a leadoff homer off Chad Fox in the ninth, and Bernie Williams made it a laugher five batters later, slamming a 425-foot, three-run homer off Braden Looper.
"He's been really good," Mussina's catcher, Jorge Posada, said. "To give him some runs and get him a win was nice."
Mariano Rivera closed it out with two shutout innings, and Mussina walked off into the rainy Florida sunset with a W for the first time this October.
"You know these are going to be low-scoring games," Mussina said. "You do the best you can to keep the team in there as long as you can."
Mussina earned this one, pitching his way out of some dicey situations.
Speedy Juan Pierre led off the first inning with a double off the front of Williams' outstretched glove in center and scored three batters later when Miguel Cabrera singled.
After that, Mussina did everything he could to avoid trouble.
In the second, Alex Gonzalez stroked a two-out double to left field, but Mussina fanned Beckett on a called strike to get out of that frame unscathed.
In the third inning, Boone botched an easy ground ball to third for a two-out error, but it didn't matter when Mussina silenced the deafening Pro Player crowd by freezing Cabrera.
Mussina then simply took over, getting the next five batters -- three by strikeout -- until the game was delayed by rain for 39 minutes with two outs in the fifth.
When the sky cleared, Mussina kept pouring it on.
He stranded two Marlins on the bases in the sixth by inducing a Derrek Lee comebacker that caught Pudge Rodriguez between third and home, then striking out Mike Lowell. He finished the night with nine strikeouts in seven innings.
"He had everything working tonight," Pierre said. "Curveball, knuckle-curve, splitter ... he was dealin', man."
"We missed some chances, and when you're not taking advantage of chances against someone as good as Mike Mussina, you know you're in trouble because you're not gonna get too many."
Mussina expressed frustration after pitching well enough to win in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series against the Boston Red Sox and losing again.
Up to that point, Mussina had pitched at least five innings in each of his three playoff starts and not given up more than four runs in any outing. He also was 0-3.
He got some confidence by saving the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS last Thursday.
Mussina entered the game as a reliever and squelched a first-and-third, nobody-out situation in the fourth inning against Boston. He went on to throw two more scoreless innings in New York's eventual 11th-inning win.
He carried that momentum into Tuesday night's game and finally got rewarded for it.
"I was really proud of Moose," Torre said. "The fact that every game he has pitched, he's given us a chance to win. Tonight was terrific.
"I know that outing he had on Thursday, I'm sure it helped his confidence tonight."
Mussina wouldn't argue that point.
"Coming into Game 7 of the ALCS, I threw the ball well and helped us get through that game," Mussina said.
"Then throwing seven solid innings tonight, yeah, I feel better than I did the three games before that."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.