NEW YORK -- Are the Yankees underdogs? Mike Mussina hears the question, but it takes a moment to run through his analytical mind.
There's a several-second pause, and one can imagine Mussina running through the point-by-point comparison. In the end, he leaves all that data in his interior monologue. One day before the ALCS begins, the right-hander doesn't want to bring up history or home-field advantage. In his mind, it's silly to name either New York or Boston as a favorite.
"It's the Yankees and the Red Sox. I don't think it really matters," Mussina said on Monday. "They say that because we haven't had pitching all year. That's what everybody said, but we won 101 games -- 104 games now. So, we're underdogs. We still have to go out and play. It doesn't matter what it says on paper or what it says anywhere else."
That's a fact, but it's still odd to even hear the question. The Yankees have been to the World Series six times in the last nine seasons, and they've usually dealt with this topic from the other end. New York is used to being a prohibitive favorite -- especially against the Red Sox.
In most quarters, they still are. The Sox finished in second place in the AL East, but they're a trendy postseason pick because of the strength at the top of their rotation. That fact's not lost on the defending
AL champions: The Yankees know all about Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez, but they're not ready to concede anything to anyone.
"It's how they pitch that particular day. Obviously, we're sending Moose out there with a great deal of confidence," said
Yankees manager Joe Torre. "You don't think in terms of beating Schilling. You just think in terms of staying with him. Hopefully, when the game's over, you found a way to get things done."
Mussina's no stranger to top billing, having led off three other postseason series for New York. In fact, his last four starts this year have all had an October feel -- Mussina matched up twice against Pedro Martinez and twice against Johan Santana.
Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees
at New York
NYY 10, BOS 7
at New York
NYY 3, BOS 1
at New York
at New York
* If necessary
The Yanks won three of those games and lost one, with the lone setback coming in Game 1 of the ALDS last Tuesday.
"You need games like that to prepare for the postseason," said Mussina about high-profile pitching matchups. "It's going to be tough to get runs. You have to be able to go out there and pitch, deal with the fact that it's going to be a low-scoring, tight game. We're the only game on and everybody's going to be watching. You have to be able to go out there and do the job."
This one, he readily concedes, is completely different. It's always interesting when the Red Sox come to town, and the playoffs add another element. Mussina said that the atmosphere lends adrenaline -- the players feel the electric environment and do their best to plug in to it.
Mike Mussina / P
Weight: 185 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: R
"Every time we play them during the season, it's a postseason atmosphere. For 19 games," he said. "Now we play them in the postseason, and after experiencing it last year, I know it's levels above the 19 regular-season games. It's exciting, and this year, I think it's the way it should be: A rematch of last year and the two best teams in the AL this year."
He brings up a fair point. Last year around this time, these two teams locked up in the same exact scenario. Seven games -- winner takes all, including bragging rights and a trip to the World Series. In some ways, it's taken a year to deal with the fallout.
"Last year was an incredible roller-coaster ride, but each game is one you have to forget the next day," said Torre. "Whether you win it in the last at-bat, get your brains beat out or you beat their brains out, it certainly doesn't give you a free meal for the next game. You've got to go out there and start all over again. Every single game takes on its own life. It's draining."
Mussina can speak to that same experience. He got the ball in Game 1 of the 2003 ALCS, but he ended up losing both of his starts -- both to Boston's Tim Wakefield. The veteran made up for those disappointments with a stellar relief turn in Game 7, but he's hoping for a more direct path to success this time.
"I've been asked to start a couple of series now the last couple of years -- this is the fourth one," he said. "Every time you step out there, you're going to learn something about yourself or the experience. ...I'm sure I've learned something from it. But this is a different series, different team, different circumstances."
"You know what's interesting? You're not sure what's going to be the determining factor," said Torre. "You go in, look at it and try to figure it out on paper. You say, this pitcher may have it over this pitcher and this matchup might be better in your favor. So many of those things will be thrown out the window in this particular matchup."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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