With a little under 40 games left in the season, Mike Mussina has 16 wins and a real chance of winning 20 games for the first time in his 17-year career.
If you’re a Yankee fan, you can remember last year at this time when Mussina was taken out of the rotation because he could barely get through three innings without giving up at least three runs.
He looked like he had nothing left in the tank, and with one year left on his contract, the Yankees weren’t sure what kind of production they would get out of him.
At the start of the 2008 season, Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte were the one-two punch at the top of the rotation. And who could forget the hype surrounding young pitchers Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy, who were expected to blossom in their first full season in the majors.
Not to mention Joba Chamberlain, the 22-year old who shot to stardom as Mariano Rivera’s primary set-up guy in 2007 and was expected to work his way into the starting rotation by May.
Mike Mussina barely registered as a player to be excited about in 2008. If he pitched a good game, it was a bonus, and if he pitched poorly, no one would be surprised after his lackluster performance in 2007.
He’d been demoted to the bullpen and suffered leg injuries for most of the season. The truth was: No one was sure if Mussina would recover from the mental and physical trials he’d been put through.
As high as expectations can be, letdowns can be just as big. Both Hughes and Kennedy got off to an awful start. It looked as if they forgot how to pitch in the majors, something they had both been successful at the year before.
By the second month of the season, they both spent time on the DL. Hughes was expected to be out until at least August with a fractured rib, and after Kennedy’s injury healed, he was demoted to the minors to get his head together.
Andy Pettitte got off to his usual, slow, first-half start, and Wang put up his usual numbers, until he suffered an injury in June, which will likely keep him out for the remainder of the season. Joba pitched relatively well once he entered the rotation, but the rotation was lacking stability.
Under the radar, Mussina was putting together a solid season. He was pitching guys inside, something he had stopped doing for much of 2007. Even though his fastball remained in the upper 80s, he was putting the ball exactly where he wanted. Mussina has always thrown a knuckle curve, and while it has always been one of his best pitches, he somehow found a way to make that pitch even better.
More importantly, Mussina has rediscovered his confidence and has become the stability of the Yankees' rotation. For a guy that was supposed to have nothing left, he has given his team a chance to win almost every time he has made a start.
I am willing to bet that, at the start of the season, no one ever would’ve put the name Mike Mussina and ace in the same sentence. Yet, here he is, at 39, proving just how good he really is, with a chance of obtaining 20 wins for the first time ever.
It just goes to show you can’t ever count anyone out because they could end up being the hero you were searching for.
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