11 moments that got Moose to Cooperstown

December 8th, 2022

Mike Mussina pitched 18 years in the Major Leagues, putting together a resume that landed him in the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.

Mussina's journey -- which included a decade with the Orioles and eight seasons with the Yankees -- was filled with memorable moments, from dominant regular-season starts to stellar postseason outings. On his birthday, here's a look at some of the highlights that propelled him to Cooperstown.

1. What a relief
Through the first 13 years of Mussina's career, all 400 of his appearances in the regular season and postseason had come as a starting pitcher. So when Joe Torre summoned the right-hander out of the bullpen in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox -- with runners on the corners, nobody out and the Yankees trailing, 4-0, in the fourth -- it was anybody's guess how he would respond. Mussina escaped the jam without allowing another run, then threw two more scoreless frames to give the Yankees a chance to come back against Pedro Martinez. Four innings after Mussina departed the game, Aaron Boone's walk-off home run against Tim Wakefield won the pennant.

"That was my most exciting moment in New York," Mussina said after announcing his retirement.

2. Grand finale
Mussina knew that his start on Sept. 28, 2008, would be the last of his career, and with 19 victories already under his belt that season, he had one last shot at securing the first 20-win campaign of his career. Mussina fired six shutout innings against the playoff-bound Red Sox at Fenway Park, then watched five relievers combine for the final nine outs to finish out the win. Mussina became the oldest first-time 20-game winner, then joined Sandy Koufax as the only pitchers in history to retire following a 20-win season.

3. Postseason Moose arrives
Mussina hadn't been impressive in his first postseason in 1996, but the right-hander was dominant in 1997, posting a 1.24 ERA in four starts against Seattle and Cleveland. After outpitching Randy Johnson in a pair of AL Division Series matchups, Mussina stepped it up to another level against Cleveland in the ALCS. He fanned 15 batters over seven innings in Game 3, then came back on three days' rest to toss eight shutout innings in Game 6. Unfortunately for Mussina, the Orioles' offense tallied just one run in the two games, slapping him with a pair of no-decisions as Baltimore lost the series in six games.

4. Fishing expedition
Mussina's lone World Series victory came in Game 3 of the 2003 Fall Classic, when he limited the Marlins to one run over seven innings in a duel with Josh Beckett. Mussina was lined up to pitch Game 7 at Yankee Stadium against future teammate Carl Pavano, but Beckett came back on short rest to end the Series in six games, leaving Mussina without a championship.

5. Nearly perfect
On May 30, 1997, Mussina retired the first 25 Cleveland hitters before giving up a one-out single to Sandy Alomar Jr., ending his perfect game bid. Mussina finished off his gem allowing one hit with 10 strikeouts in a 3-0 Orioles victory, one of four one-hit shutouts of his career.

6. Nearly perfect ... again
Four years and three months after Mussina came within two outs of perfection, the right-hander took it one step further. Pitching in his first season with the Yankees, Mussina sat down the first 26 Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sept. 2, 2001, moving within one out of history. Mussina got ahead 1-2 against pinch-hitter Carl Everett before the outfielder broke up his bid with a two-strike single. Mussina finished off his one-hitter, striking out 13 in a 1-0 win over Boston.

7. Staying alive
The Yankees were three-time defending World Series champions when Mussina joined the team, but after the first two games of the 2001 ALDS, New York found itself one loss from elimination. Mussina kept the Yankees alive with seven shutout innings, beating Oakland's Barry Zito in a 1-0 duel. Oh yeah, Derek Jeter also made some kind of flip play in that game, too.

8. Fall Classic
Although Game 5 of the 2001 World Series will forever be remembered for Scott Brosius' game-tying, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth (and Alfonso Soriano's walk-off single in the 12th), Mussina did his part with an eight-inning, two-run, 10-strikeout performance. This was probably Mussina's best chance at a championship, but Mariano Rivera's blown save in Game 7 left the starter seeking that elusive ring.

9. Dazzling debut
Having been drafted out of Stanford with the 20th overall pick in 1990, Mussina made just 28 Minor League starts before being promoted to Baltimore for his big league debut at Comiskey Park on Aug. 4, 1991. Facing a lineup that included Hall of Famers Tim Raines and Frank Thomas, Mussina limited the White Sox to one run on four hits over 7 2/3 innings, but the 22-year-old lost a 1-0 decision as 43-year-old knuckleballer Charlie Hough threw a five-hit shutout.

10. Bronx cheer
For some players, the pressure that accompanies a big free-agent contract can be overwhelming -- especially in New York. Mussina didn't have those issues after inking a six-year, $88.5 million deal with the Yankees, making a strong first impression with the Bronx crowd. Mussina tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings against the Royals at Yankee Stadium in his pinstriped debut, allowing five hits and no walks before handing a 1-0 lead to Rivera with two out in the eighth.

11. Going streaking
Only one man mattered on Sept. 6, 1995, as Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games-played streak and captured the imagination of baseball fans everywhere. Mussina won his 16th game of the season with 7 2/3 innings of two-run ball against the Angels, becoming the answer to the trivia question: Who was the winning pitcher in Ripken's 2,131st consecutive game?