The great athletes--the ones we remember-are the ones who are able to put the team on their back and carry it when the occasion calls for it.
On Tuesday, after the 6-1 lead to which Aaron Small had been staked was squandered, the Yanks were in a pickle. The pitching staff was short to begin with, since Small was starting in the place of Jaret Wright and his strained groin. Waiverbait Scott Erickson, overused Scott Proctor, and inconsistent Kyle Farnsworth had already been used, leaving only Mariano Rivera, Ron Villone (who'd pitched two innings on Monday) and LOOGY Mike Myers in the pen.
So, with the team short on relief options, Rivera went out there and threw three innings, showing good economy of pitches and his typical strong fielding. He got the win when the Yanks managed to score in the top of the 11th, and closed out the game, too.
Last night, the pressure on the Yanks continued. This time the bad news came from Gary Sheffield, who was sent back to New York because of his wrist problems, Derek Jeter, who's still dealing with a hand injury from Monday's game, and Johnny Damon, who's out of the lineup resting the stress fracture in his foot. Mike Mussina had to be fine, with the likes of Terrence Long, Miguel Cairo, and Melky Cabrera (or should I say Bernie Williams?) starting in place of the team's star shortstop, center fielder, and right fielder.
The results were pretty darned good, and the Yanks came away with a 6-1 victory, and a shot at the sweep of Detroit in Detroit tonight. Mussina pitched a complete game and didn't allow a run, giving everyone a rare moment of humor when, with his shutout broken in the ninth inning with two outs, Joe Torre came to take him out of the game.
Mussina saw Torre coming out of the dugout and emphatically yelled (per my weak lip-reading skills) "you get back in there!" pointing at the dugout. Torre put up his hands, laughed, and obeyed.
I've never really warmed up to Mussina. Even when he's pitched well as a Yankee, he seemed so...restrained, almost limited. Moose's only visible emotion was "sulky," and he wasn'ta fun interview, not even the most fun guy to watch pitch. This season has been different--he's pitching differently, and he's wearing his emotions on his sleeve a little bit more. Maybe it's all an illusion, but I'm certainly enjoying this Mike Mussina more than I ever have before. Once upon a time, he'd have been my last pick among the "name" to just put the team on his back (despite the fact that he did exactly that with a surprise relief appearance in the 2003 ALCS). Now, his starts are appointment television. It's a strange game.
Roger Clemens lands in Houston. No big shock, no big loss. Having a guy like Clemens out there is dangerous, an eternal distraction from what a team like the Yankees needs to do to win this season. Now he's out of the picture, and the Red Sox don't get him. If the Yanks worry about Roger Clemens again in 2006, it'll be because they're playing the Astros in the World Series. All the better.
Word is that a handshake part of the Clemens deal guarantees a call-up for his son, Koby, this September, so that father and son can play together. If Koby has any self-respect, or really any interest in a career after his dad finally hangs up his cleats, he needs to refuse any such call-up (can a minor leaguer refuse a September call-up, I wonder?). The boy's hitting .186 in the Sally League. You get an unearned call-up now, people will remember it the rest of your career.
Barry Bonds gets 715. Good for him. I don't much care because a) it's not the record, and b) as Steve Goldman pointed out a few weeks back, Babe Ruth is much more than a number.