Hellish week at the office so far, meaning that all the Yankee action I've caught has been courtesy of Yankees Encore on the YES Network. As a result, my comments won't be terribly detailed, as watching a game on replay is always a bit harder than watching live--specially when you're a geek like me who can't resist finding out the score before I catch the game.
Yesterday, I picked up the action in the second inning, with the Yanks up, 4-3. Saw a lefty on the mound, and immediately thought--Johnson must've been scratched, and they've got either Matt Smith or Ron Villone picking up the spot start.
Yes, I saw the "41" on the pitcher's back. I saw that he was a tallish lefthander. But the windup, the pitching motion, the look of his pitches--I wouldn't have guessed it was Johnson until I saw a closeup of the Big Unit's scraggly mug.
Johnson had nothing, which immediately became evident as the Jays swatted him like a pinata. The claim is that he's not hurt, but I simply can't believe that--I mean, you're asking me to believe that after sixteen years of success, Johnson just decided to completely change the way he pitches, voluntarily?
The Yanks never recovered from the Unit's bad start, going on to lose, 10-5. There was a moment in the fourth inning which stood out, because I think it was the first time I started to "get" the Johnny Damon phenomenon. With Scott Proctor relieving Johnson, Vernon Wells hit a hard shot to right center, which Damon tracked down at full speed on the warning track. After the catch, Damon went on to slam head first into the thankfully-padded wall. It was just a violent collision, with Damon's head snapping back as he made contact with the wall.
The thing was, after he picked himself up, Damon had this grin on his face. The thought that came to my mind, in the most affectionate way possible, was "thank god he hit that wall head-first--otherwise, he might have damaged something vital."
Maybe you just had to be there.
By the way, for all I appreciate Damon's reaction, I'd like it if the pitchers would stop trying to kille the Yankee outfielders. The Blue Jays were hitting the ball on the screws all night, so Yankees were constantly and recklessly racing around the outfield trying to corral those hard-hit shots--it's dangerous, I tell you.
Watching the replay of today's game as I type. Mussina's a stark contrast to Johnson, in that his pitches and pitching style are entirely different than in his prime, but his mechanics and windup are all the same--he still does the deep bend from the waist when he's pitching from the stretch, he still holds his glove close to his body, for the most part he uses the same arm slot when he throws. Just that where he was once a power pitcher, now he's a pure junkballer. He's a guy with a half-dozen breaking pitches and changeups, each thrown at a variety of different speeds.
When he's on--and today, he was on--he is all about breaking up the batter's tempo, and moving his eye level. Mussina lives on no margin, every pitch he throws in the strike zone could be blasted into the next state (or, in yesterday's case, province), if the batter connects. But it's hard to make that kind of connection when the next pitch could be thrown anywhere from 62 to 85 miles per hour, and could feature any form of movement imaginable.
That said, I don't think Mussina sticks with this team after the season.