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We'll Miss You, Moose - and NFL Picks, Too
November 21, 2008 - John Whittaker
In the wake of Mike Mussina's impending retirement, I want to take a minute to salute the Moose and all the steady veteran players like him throughout sports.
The News Gal and I were just starting to get over the retirement of Troy Brown of the Patriots when we get the news that Mussina's hanging up his spikes.
Two seasons ago, I did the 12-story nosedive off of the Mussina bandwagon - he wasn't throwing strikes, didn't have the stuff to get through good hitters and was getting hit harder than Randy Couture at the end of his UFC title match with Brock Lesnar.
After Mussina's early season struggles with the Red Sox last year, I really thought he was done. Then, out of nowhere, he became the best pitcher on the Yankees staff, stringing together quality start after quality start, hitting the corners with his tailing fastball or painting the top of the strike zone with that little hanging curveball that hitters just couldn't bring themselves to swing at, never missing a turn in the rotation for a team that was starting Sidney Ponson and Darrell Rasner every five days.
It got to the point that the News Gal would say, before every game, "I hope Moose's pitching tonight.' He was the bright spot in a lost season of Yankees baseball.
When he won his 20th game of the season (the first time in his career he won 20 games) and mentioned retirement, I knew he was probably gone. Before we start the "Is he or isn't he a Hall of Famer' debate (He is, by the way), let's appreciate what he brought to the Yankees.
According to http://www.baseball-reference.com/m/mussimi01.shtml, Mussina went 123-72 with the Yankees with a 3.88 ERA while pitching in the toughest division in baseball. Yeah, he was a second-fiddle to Roger Clemens and Chien-Ming Wang. Sure, he was 5-7 in the playoffs. It's true that Moose never took the Yankees to a championship, and he was never a true staff ace. In the 2003 playoffs, it was Mussina who came on in relief of an ineffective Roger Clemens to throw three shutout innings and keep the Yankees in the game until Aaron Boone could end it in the 11th inning. Without Moose, that game never happens. And, I'll never forget the September 2001 game with Boston, when only a Carl Everett single kept Moose from throwing a perfect game. In his early years as a Yankee, Moose was on top of his game - something his 2007 struggles kind of obscured for me, and something the News Gal reminded me of often in 2008.
Want to know what I'll remember most about Mussina?
His final season, when the Yankees starting rotation was in shambles and he almost singlehandedly stepped up, becoming the staff ace. The Yankees would have had no playoff chance had Mussina not stepped up, at age 39, to be the number 1 starter. And, he did it without his best stuff. That mid-90s fastball got left long ago on a mound in Camden Yards in Baltimore. He came to the Yankees a different pitcher than the big game hunter he was with the Orioles, but, in 2008, it didn't matter to the Moose.
He gritted through a season throwing an 85 mile an hour fastball, looping knuckle-curve and the Eddie Harris collection -- the Vasoline, mucus and KY balls. Toward the end of the season, it looked like the Moose was making up pitches as he went along.
But, still, he showed up at the park every day ready to help his team win. He worked with young pitchers. He changed the way he pitched so he could be more effective. He never complained.
And, he won games.
As the Yankees 2008 Most Valuable Player rides off into the sunset, the News Gal (big Mussina fan, by the way) and I bid the Moose a fond farewell. You'll be missed - especially if I have to watch Sidney Ponson make another start for the Yankees.
Maybe you can write that retirement announcement in pencil, rather than etch it in stone.
On to the NFL picks for this week.
Carolina at Atlanta: I can just imagine the Fox promos for this game - It's Jake Delhomme, the unsteady veteran who Panthers fans swear is colorblind, taking on rookie, Matt Ryan, whose supporting cast is as shaky as Tony Siragusa when he goes 10 minutes without eating. It's the Panthers and the Falcons, with bragging rights in the NFC South and the right to be the sacrificial lamb to the Giants in the second round of the NFC Playoffs going to the winner. Coming up next, on Fox! Cue the Saved By Zero commercial … NOW. Sing along everybody - you know the words by now!
Philadelphia at Baltimore: So, Donovan McNabb is catching crap for not knowing the overtime rules. Aren't we missing the point - the Eagles couldn't move the ball and score against the BENGALS! Isn't this the real point, that McNabb and the offense scored 13 points against the BENGALS! The BENGALS! Should I repeat this? If Donnie and the boys can't score on the Bengals, what chance do they have on Crazy Uncle Ray Ray and the Ravens? Yeah, that's what I thought. I like the Ravens and Joe A-flacco to win a close one. Cue the duck.
Houston at Cleveland: Cleveland, at home, going against Sage Rosenfels in what promises to be a blizzard. Where do I sign up?
San Francisco at Dallas: Remember when this game featured, like, five Hall of Famers and 12 Pro Bowlers every year and was a preview of the NFC Championship game? Now, it's the Terrell Owens Revenge Bowl and a game featuring two very flawed teams. Dallas wins, because I just can't see San Francisco putting together three consecutive non-terrible games.
Tampa Bay at Detroit: I think the NFL needs to make the Las Vegas point spread real in any game involving the Detroit Lions. Seriously - who wouldn't watch their game this weekend to see if they go a game without blowing that 8.5 point lead they start the game with. I would. Would Rod Marinelli get conservative in the first quarter, trying to milk the clock. Would he air it out with Daunte Culpepper since he's got a lead. Starting from zeros, though, Tampa wins this one in a walk - and Teddy, who is on his way to Detroit as you read this, goes home happy.
Minnesota at Jacksonville: In a battle of two teams that should be a lot better than they really are, I like Minnesota to come out with a win. Jacksonville runs the ball well, or should run the ball well, but Minnesota has the soon-to-be-suspended Williams brothers stuffing the run, and David Garrard is, well, a poor man's version of Kordell Stewart. By the way, how much longer will the trend away from pocket passers last? A lot of young, athletic "running' quarterbacks are really struggling while old pocket warhorses like Kerry Collins and Kurt Warner are lighting up scoreboards around the NFL. What does it tell you that I think Gus Frerotte wins again this week? He's Gus Frerotte. It's like watching a big-budget movie featuring Eddie Harris (the guy who played Eddie Harris in Major League and George (the guy who made Gene Hackman's life hell) in Hoosiers. It's okay, but could be so much better.
Buffalo at Kansas City: Finally, a team that the Bills can beat, even on the road. Three weeks ago, I'm telling Bills fans that "It's on' and now it's off. Way off. Sorry guys, maybe next year you can challenge for the playoffs. This year, you're playing to keep your team from moving full-time to Toronto. Oops - sorry about that, Bills fans. Maybe the better rivalry for you guys right now is the Toronto Argonauts.
New England at Miami: Big game this weekend for the Pats, and it's in Miami. I'd feel a lot better if the Dolphins were playing in Gillette Stadium. Matt Cassel has grown up a lot since the last time the Dolphins saw him, and there's no way Chad Pennington beats the Pats twice this year. Speaking of Cassel, do you think he sits up at night naming other quarterbacks in the league he's better than, almost like he's counting sheep? I can definitely see this happening. David Garrard … Chad Pennington … Shaun Hill …. Daunte Culpepper … anyone else from the Lions … Mark Bulger … anyone from the Chiefs … Then he falls asleep counting the money from his free agent contract - probably four years and $40 million from Detroit.
Chicago at St. Louis: Maybe the Rams should fire a second coach this year. Seriously, what could it hurt? Jim Haslett has obviously lost this team, since they've been outscored something like 475-10 in the first half of their last three games. Not even Rex Grossman could blow this game for the Bears.
N.Y. Jets at Tennessee: This is one of the few games this weekend I want to see on TV, which means we'll probably have the Bills and then Oakland at Denver on CBS this weekend. As a Pats fan, I need the Titans to stay unbeaten and give the Pats a chance to tie for first in the AFC East. Is there any doubt which way my pick's going here? Of course not. Kerry Collins and the Titans win the Methusulah Bowl.
Oakland at Denver: Denver wins, not that it matters. Both teams stink. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the News Gal and I really enjoyed How I Met Your Mother this week. We're devoted fans of the show, but have found we don't laugh quite as much during episodes as we did during the first season. Monday's episode (viewed Thursday, since I had to work Monday this week) had us in hysterics, though. Nice to see the writer's strike is finally over.
N.Y. Giants at Arizona: So, who gets the MVP buzz after the fighting Eli Mannings destroy the Cardinals in Arizona? I just don't see the Cardinals being able to keep Warner upright for this entire game. In fact, I see Matt Leinart being prominently involved in the outcome - and that's not good for Cardinals fans.
Washington at Seattle: Um, yeah, I think Washington wins this one easily. What a brutal game to have to watch. It's alright, Seattle fans, at least you have the Supersoni…. Oh, man, is that too soon? Well, baseball season is only four months away for you guys. Maybe then you can beat Washington.
Indianapolis at San Diego: It would be easy to take the Colts in this one, but I see the Chargers coming out with one of those "We'll string you along into thinking we're a good team for one more week' games on Sunday night. Besides, somebody has to knock the Broncos out of first place. I like the San … Diego …. SUPERCHARGERS to take this one.
Green Bay at New Orleans: Unless Aaron Rodgers is out all weekend partying in the French Quarter, the Packers win this one easily. Their corners are good enough to shut down the Saints receivers, and the Saints defense might as well not even be on the field. Start any and all Packers offensive players in your fantasy leagues this weekend.
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