There’s only one major leaguer whose career I’ve followed since his debut. There’s only one whose line I read regularly. There’s only one who’s playing as poorly as he is. I don’t know what to do about it. Take Monday night — the would-be redemption night — when Mike gave up big runs and lost his third game in a row.
Mussina is the most analytical of pitchers, but he seems mystified by this slump. He talked about the small slice of the game that pitchers actually control. But even that much has gone awry, shaking his confidence deeply.
“Right now, I let go of it and I don’t feel like anything good is going to happen,” Mussina said. “It’s tough to pitch that way. You can’t play the game that way to feel like you have no control over anything, and that’s how I feel right now.
“Even the 60 feet, 6 inches, it doesn’t feel like I have a grasp of, and two weeks ago I felt like I could do anything I wanted. That’s how this game is. It’ll slap you in the face when you think you’ve got it. I felt good about it and now I don’t feel good at all.”
The Yankees owe Mussina more than $11 million for next season, but he seems to be nearing the end. It is a scary and sudden reality, and it has knocked him as low as he has ever been.
“If Joe thinks that somebody else can give us a lift or do the job better, then that’s up to him,” Mussina said. “I want to keep going out there and figure out what’s going on because I can’t believe in three starts that I forgot how to pitch after 17 years. So I just hope he has confidence enough in me to keep sending me out there and let me figure this out. But at the same time, we’ve got to win ballgames and I’ll understand if he thinks that we need to do something else.
In his last three starts, the 38-year-old Mussina has allowed 19 earned runs in 9 2/3 innings — a 17.69 ERA. Before the staggering slump, Mussina had won four straight starts — giving up eight combined runs — and improved to 8-7.
“He’s had some quality performances for us,” Torre said. “He’s getting older, but you don’t fall off the cliff this fast.”
After the bottom of the second inning last night at Comerica Park, Mike Mussina called over Yankees pitching coach Ron Guidry.
“I don’t know what to do,” Mussina said.
“Keep making the best pitches you can make,” Guidry said.
The Yankees will meet on Tuesday in New York to discuss Mussina’s immediate future; manager Joe Torre said that Mussina tentatively remains on turn to make his next scheduled start on Saturday against the Devil Rays, but that would be subject to change pending an exploratory conference with the veteran righty and pitching coach Ron Guidry.
Names widely floated as possibilities to take Mussina’s place in the rotation have included Triple-A hurlers Kei Igawa, Ian Kennedy and Steven White. But Mussina was not about to concede his rotation spot.
Just a few weeks ago, after Mike won three straight, I thought he could do another three this season to reach 250 lifetime. I figured a 15-win season next year would put him within range of 300 and Cooperstown. But things have gotten lost.
It’s been about 17 years since I picked up Mike’s Score rookie — draft rookie — in a now-defunct Bethesda card shop, and now’s the first time I’ve ever been worried about him. The columns and blogs are calling for exile to the bullpen, and Mike sounds like he’s watching his work from the sidelines. In the blogosphere, the LoHud Yankees and the Psycho Fan have takes on Mike’s psyche this week, and the latter links to River Ave. Blues’ recent “I come to praise Mike Mussina” essay to offset their recent criticism. I don’t take issue with the criticism. It’s their right as fans. My two cents: When a person plays out so many games in his head, failures in the real games invalidate all the thinking.
I don’t think Mike’s playing too many games in his head — more that failure has greater impact on his methods. As someone who’s tried for years to think Mike’s televised pitches into the strike zone, the failure of one’s brain to affect the physical world is always a tiny disappointment. I can only imagine the disconnect when the ball flies back, hard, over your head, repeatedly to the point of being a wild pattern.
I’m looking tonight online for an old Mussina replica jersey from the Orioles days. I’m not ruling out tracking down M&M Boys items either. It’s the most I can do. I’m also hanging my Mussina T-shirt from a shelf. Starting now, it doesn’t come down until a win or retirement. I’m still rooting for wins 250 and 300 for him. He’s Mike Mussina, my baseball hero, and I have to tell you as much because maybe you can root for him too.
Previous Mussina coverage in this blog:
-6/17/07: When moose collide
-8/6/06: Collecting collecting coverage
-6/18/06: “Could Mussina make tracks back to O’s?”
-10/2/05: Mike Mussina’s night at the ballpark
-9/23/05: Welcome back
-10/13/04: In search of perfection