Mike Mussina has come close to many milestones in his career. He almost pitched a perfect game (four times), twice he almost won a World Series with the Yankees, and he almost had 20 wins twice. After a disappointing 2007, at 38 no one expected Mussina to have a stand-out 2008, but that is exactly what he did.
In 2008, Mike Mussina changed the way he pitched. He proved that at 39 you can in fact teach an old dog new tricks. Last year he posted an 11-10 record with a 5.15 ERA, and going into yesterday's game he had a record of 19-9 with a 4.32 ERA.
Mussina took the hill for the final time Sunday afternoon after the Yankees had been eliminated from the post-season earlier in the week. He had a chance to get his 20th win for just the first time in his career. There he stood, a pitcher with so much success and so many "almosts" looking to grab something else that had eluded him his entire career.
Just like he'd done for the entire season, the Moose made the pitches he needed to and kept the Yankees in the game. Luckily the offense gave him support and after Mariano Rivera recorded the last out of the game, Mussina finally did it. Not only did he get his 20th win of the season, but he became the oldest player to ever win twenty games for the first time.
By winning twenty games, Mussina is seriously entering conversations for consideration for the Hall of Fame. While he only has 270 career wins, no Cy Young awards, and no World Series Championships, he has been consistent for 18 years. Not only that, but Mussina has pitched his entire career in the highly competitive AL east.
The first ten years of his career he spent in a small ballpark in Baltimore which was built more for hitters than pitchers, yet he still was successful. For the past seven years he has pitched in Yankee Stadium and compiled a winning record every year.
Mussina has acknowledged that while it would be "nice" to get voted to the Hall, he isn't pre-occupied with that thought. When asked on Sunday if he had pitched his last game, Moose just shrugged and said he hadn't made up his mind yet, but if this was it it was a good way to go out.
Mussina has never been the type of player that was so consumed with the game that he couldn't see past it. That is not to say that he hasn't played hard or loved pitching all these years. The guy is a competitor, which he has showed so many times in his career.
In game seven of the 2003 ALCS, Mussina came out of the bullpen in the middle of an inning, something he had never done in the big leagues. His solid performance of three scoreless innings kept the Red Sox at bay and set-up one of the greatest playoff games in the history of the sport.
For me, there was no pitcher more deserving of his first 20th win than Mike Mussina. He has gone out and performed start after start all while never considering himself bigger than the game. He received a standing ovation from his teammates when he entered the clubhouse after all the post game interviews were over and he said he had never witnessed that before on any team he's ever played for.
For athletes, one of the most valuable forms of recognition comes from their teammates. And for those of us that weren't fortunate enough to be in that clubhouse, we were clapping for you Moose. Congrats on number 20. No one is more deserving. Hope to see you in 2009.