Wednesday, July 07, 2004

A Bigger Tease Than Brittany Spears

When we picked out our games for the season ticket plan, tonight's matchup was an illogical must-see. La Chiquita, my non-baseball-lovin' significant other, is from Detroit, and so we chose this weeknight game as her introduction to Yankee Stadium.

The decision having been made over the off-season, with the Tiggers coming off a historically awful season, I just hoped she'd get a decent game to watch. Y'know, that maybe the Tigers could keep it close against the big, bad Yankees.

Be careful what you wish for.

It started innocently enough. Brad Halsey was scheduled to start tonight, but Joe Torre decided to give Mike Mussina the ball instead. Moose gets ornery if you disrupt his precious routine, so Torre didn't want Mike to have a week's worth of downtime due to next week's All-Star Game. Juggling the rotation means Mussina can start on Sunday, and stay on four or five day's rest after the All Star Break.

And for three innings, it looked like a great idea. Mussina struck out the side in the first. The Tigers couldn't touch him -- literally. In the second, Mussina allowed Rondell White to reach on an error (ruled a single and an error, as Mussina threw the ball away) but Mike stayed in complete control. Two more strikeouts.

I was so excited about Mussina's born-again stuff that I barely noticed that the Yanks didn't do anything with Jason Johnson -- Jason Friggin' Johnson! -- in their half of each inning.

Mussina pitched a scoreless third, but now the Tigers were making contact. As Detroit has a .285 team batting average, contact is a bad idea. Then, in the fourth inning, Mussina looked completely different. He treated Omar Infante to a four-pitch walk. Infante's erased on a double play grounder, but it's a hard grounder. Mussina looks OK in the fifth inning, right up until he gives up a two-run shot to Bobby Friggin' Higginson.

That's Bobby Higginson's fifth homer of the season. The guy's slugging .405.

As I would have to explain to La Chiquita, that's not good.

Still, Mussina racks up a couple more Ks. No need to worry, right? Just a bump in the road, it looks like. And things look even better when the Yanks break up Jason Johnson's perfect game, and score a run on three hits. Sure, it's disappointing that the Yanks let Robertson off the hook after getting men on first and second with no outs.

Then Mussina took the mound in the top of the sixth inning, with absolutely no stuff. Rope single to Sanchez. Infante flies out, hard, to right. Another single, hit on the screws, by Pudge Rodriguez. Then Bernie Williams butchers another hard hit ball to the outfield -- he makes a false move in, before realizing the ball's hit over his head and to one side of him. That's a double.

Moose ain't fooling anyone, but no one comes out to the mound, no one's up in the pen. Another single. Mike might as well be throwing batting practice. No help, and no discussion, until Rondell hits a moon shot to left field.

It's now 7-1, game basically over. Thanks, Moose! Sure pays off to keep you on your schedule...

So here's the question: halfway through the 2004 season, Moose has an ERA over 5.00 -- is this an ace starter? Are Mussina's useful days in the rearview mirror?


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