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Yanks' Moose rises to occasion
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10/13/2004 2:42 AM ET
Yanks' Moose rises to occasion
Starter flirts with perfection with 6 1/3 dominant innings
tickets for any Major League Baseball game
Mike Mussina waves to the crowd after being taken out of Game 1 in the seventh inning. (Amy Sancetta/AP)

NEW YORK -- Mike Mussina figured he was navigating the same unchartered waters as his adversary in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

"When you haven't pitched for a week ... when you were geared up to pitch Sunday then didn't have to because you clinched," Mussina said, "you don't know what to expect.

"You can be strong and pitch really well with good stuff. Or not know where the ball is going. A couple of extra days without pitching can be real hard. I know Curt (Schilling) was in the same boat."

Except, Schilling sank. And Mussina sailed smooth for more than two-thirds of another strange Boston-New York voyage.

Mussina retired the first 19 Red Sox he faced. Through 6 1/3 innings, he was brilliant, seldom even letting anyone hit the ball out of the infield.

But his perfect game quickly turned into a perfect mess before the Yankees, down to their last fingernail, prevailed, 10-7.

But the hectic finish could not detract from Mussina's finest moment of the long baseball year.


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"That was the best six innings I've had all year," Mussina said. "I came out and focused on what I wanted to do."

In so doing, he exacted a measure of revenge for being the losing pitcher in two of the Yankees' three losses in last fall's seven-game ALCS victory over Boston.

Mussina also leveled his lifetime postseason record at 6-6, an injustice given his ERA in 18 postseason appearances is a sharp 3.15.

If run support has been a problem in the past, it certainly wasn't Tuesday night, when the Yankees got after a sore-ankled Schilling and led, 6-0, after three innings.

"Runs are great," Mussina said, "and we were able to do some things offensively we hoped to be able to do.

"But I tried to keep pitching like it was closer than that."

It worked. Mussina's most impressive trick of the night had to be his reaction to the Yankees' four-run third inning. Such extended innings can cool down a pitcher, take him out of his rhythm. Instead, Mussina responded with five consecutive strikeouts -- tying a Championship Series record he had already shared.

The first three in that string were on called third strikes -- an indication of his movement and command.

"My stuff, my location, my curveball -- they were all good," Mussina said. "I kept throwing hard."

And for nearly seven innings, he kept Boston's side of the scoresheet pristine. With the lopsided score, the Yankee Stadium crowd (little did it know) focused on Mussina's developing march on history.

Don Larsen's perfect game in the 1956 World Series remains the only no-hitter in postseason history.

"I'm only human. I knew what was going on," Mussina said. "I knew I hadn't pitched out of the stretch.

"I wanted to keep after it. But that's a good hitting club."

Mark Bellhorn broke the spell with the one-out drive that found the wall between left fielder Hideki Matsui and center fielder Bernie Williams.

"I wasn't disappointed. I'd made a bad pitch," Mussina said. "And that's a tough-hitting club."

Very quickly, Mussina and the rest of the Yankees and all their fans had much bigger concerns than a spoiled no-hitter. Like a snowball rolling down a ski slope, the Boston rally grew.

"I didn't feel tired. After not making any bad pitches the first six innings, I made a couple of bad ones in a row," Mussina said. "When they get rolling, they keep rolling.

"And that's exactly what happened. They proved how explosive they are."

Turns out, Mussina kept their fuse damp just long enough.

"He got a little tired. He'd thrown a lot of pitches," said Mussina's catcher, Jorge Posada. "And ... it's 8-0, it's tough to stay in the game.

"But till then, he threw strikes. He was very, very good with his velocity, and location."

With the victory, the Yankees evened the last two years' tally with the Red Sox at 23-23. The day before the game, Mussina had been asked, when foes see so much of each other, who has the advantage, hitter or pitcher?

Moose had given a diplomatic answer, which boiled down to the edge belonging to whoever adjusts better.

Well, the pitchers in this tango must be all adjusted-out. The last six Boston-New York games alone have produced 89 runs.

Tom Singer 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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