Inside the plate. Outside corner. High strikes. Low strikes. Mike Mussina can put his pitches anywhere he wants nowadays.
He's the first American League pitcher in about a decade to open the season 7-0 and a big reason the New York Yankees have the majors' best record.
It certainly helps to be able to work inside and outside,'' Mussina said modestly after his latest victory, 7-2 over Seattle.
In most cases, with the fastball I can work inside and out, and up and down. Most of the other stuff falls into place. I just tried to mix it up, throw the breaking ball, and it worked.''
The Moose has been nothing short of masterful, looking as if he might turn out to be a bargain for the Yankees. George Steinbrenner lured him from the Baltimore Orioles two years ago with a $88.5 million, six-year contract.
The veteran right-hander is throwing so well that Yankees manager Joe Torre compared him to Hall of Famer Juan Marichal.
Marichal used to pitch from a lot of different angles,'' Torre said. He could throw strikes whenever he wanted to.''
With his remarkable pitch location, Mussina is off to the best AL start since Baltimore's Ben McDonald in 1994. Arizona's Randy Johnson did it in 2000 in the NL.
It's a lot of fun to play when he's pitching right now,'' Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said. He's doing everything. He's throwing strikes, expanding the zone and going to work against hitters.''
Mussina was inconsistent in 2002 but still won 18 games. The year before, his first in New York, a 5-7 record in June made him an easy target for critics, but he rebounded to finish 17-11 with a 3.15 ERA.
That's nothing, though, compared to where Mussina is now, clearly on top of his game. On a roster loaded with star power, it's a quiet Stanford economics graduate who is shining the brightest.
He's been a tough customer, not just on us but on everyone,'' Seattle manager Bob Melvin said. He's arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now. His record tells you that.''
Mussina baffled Seattle hitters for eight innings Wednesday night, striking out 12 without a walk. His fastballs were perfectly placed, zipping across the outside of the plate with exceptional precision.
He's got a lot better placement on his fastball,'' Torre said. He's doing a lot of damage with it. When you think Mike Mussina, you think knuckle and curve and offspeed stuff. So that makes his fastball that much better.''
It was Mussina's ninth straight victory in the regular season, including two games last year before a postseason no-decision against Anaheim. The Mariners marveled at how Mussina threw any pitch, at any arm angle, for strikes.
He's in the zone,'' Seattle's Bret Boone said. Everything is right where he wants to throw it. And if he makes a mistake, he's probably getting away with it because he has made so many quality pitches.''
Mussina became the first Yankees pitcher since Bob Turley in 1958 to win his first seven starts in a season. He beat the Mariners for the fourth straight time and saved the game ball, but not because of his seven straight wins.
He was more proud of pitching his 2,500th inning, and he has saved ball to mark 500-inning milestones.
Just trying to see how long I can keep going,'' he explained. It's important to know I've been healthy enough and played long enough. It's a nice step, every 500 innings or so. I don't know when my last 500 innings will be.''
When Mussina let John Olerud homer on a fastball over the plate, it was just the second homer he allowed in 53 innings.
He doesn't throw many balls in the middle of the plate,'' Melvin said. All of a sudden, you're looking for balls on the corner and there isn't a whole lot you can do with them anyway.''
Mussina hasn't lost since a 13-2 defeat to the Chicago White Sox last Sept. 13. At his current pace, it's no stretch to think Mussina and the Yankees could be back in the World Series after last year's playoff exit.
It's just a fun ride,'' Mussina said. I'm trying to keep it going, trying the best I can. Just go out and pitch smart and pitch with conviction. It's been working.''
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