The pitching duel between Mike Mussina and Josh Beckett lived up to its advanced billing last night as the Yankees beat Florida 6-1 to take a 2-1 series lead. The game was much closer than the score suggests, but the Yankees were able to break it open late. Beckett was nothing short of dominant to start the game, blowing the Yankees away with a John-Blaze four-seam fastball, and a knee-buckling curve ball. He retired the first ten batters he faced. Mussina, Mr. Hard Luck himself, started the game behind the eight-ball once again when Juan Pierre led off with a bloop double that was misplayed by Bernie Williams. Nothing new there. Miguel Cabrera then collected his first hit of the Serious, slapping an inside fastball through the right side for an RBI single.
But that didn’t deter Mussina who collected himself and settled down. According to Peter Gammons:
After that Mussina scratched and clawed and showed why he's truly a big-game pitcher. He made big pitches throughout -- using mainly a steady diet of cutters - and in the end came away the winner.
…The best way to describe Mussina is to say he's a survivor. He ran into two major jams in Game 3 and managed to escape both having allowed only one run. The sixth inning was his shining moment as he allowed a one-out double to Pudge Roriguez and then a single to Cabrera, but got out of it by inducing Derrek Lee to ground back to box, a ball that Mussina fielded and subsequently threw to catcher Jorge Posada, who tagged out Rodriguez on a rundown between third base and home plate. He ended the inning by striking out Mike Lowell.
Beckett gave up his first hit in the fourth inning when Derek Jeter lined a double to left field (Beckett allowed three hits on the night, all to the Yankee captain). Jason Giambi then drew a base on balls on a full count curve ball that just missed up in the zone. But Beckett got ahead of Matsui and was poised to work out of the inning (Matsui looked at two fastballs that were right over the heart of the plate) when he plunked Godzilla on the right foot with a wild breaking ball to load the bases. Jorge Posada followed with an at-bat that would make Paul O’Neill proud. Posada fouled off three fastballs in the high 90s, and took the 3-2 pitch low for a ball to work a walk. Jeter scored and the game was tied. The Marlins bench went nuts as two pitches to Posada, including the full-count pitch, were awfully close to being strikes.
The score remained tied with two outs in the bottom of the fifth when the game was called due to rain. It had been pouring for a good twenty minutes, and suddenly a pitching gem was in peril of being washed away.
The Marlins had their chances in the sixth and seventh but Mussina was able to pitch out of trouble. His ability as a fielder saved him in the sixth when he stabbed Derrek Lee’s grounder and proceeded to catch Pudge Rodriguez in a run down between third and home.
The game was still tied in the eighth when Jeter knocked his second double of the game off of Beckett. This one went to right field. That chased the Marlins starter and Dontrelle Willis came on in relief. Giambi walked and Jeter tagged and went to third when Bernie Williams flew out to Pierre in center. As my friend Kevin noted, this could have been the play of the game. With two out and runners on the corners, Hideki Matsui slapped a 1-0 pitch the opposite way for a single scoring Jeter. That would prove to be the winning run. Could he have scored from second? Probably. Still, is there any surprise that Jeter was at the heart of the action?
Credit ESPN’s resident Yankee-basher Jim Caple for giving Jeter props:
Alex Rodriguez is baseball's best shortstop for six months every year. But Jeter is the best the one month that matters most.
Every year October he flies in from his Fortress of Solitude and performs some feat so spectacular that you keep looking for the Vegas showgirls and the white tigers. Every time you look up, he's throwing out a runner at home with a no-look shovel pass or winning a game that started in October by slamming a home run in November.
…"Every type of experience you can have in the postseason, me and Bernie Williams have been in it,'' Jeter said. "We've been in big games. We've won and we've lost. We've been in close games that we've won and we've lost. I think the experience helps in terms of keeping your emotions under control.''
…"The thing about the postseason is everything is magnified,'' Jeter said. "Every game counts, every at-bat counts, every pitch counts. People just pay more attention to the details in the postseason.''
Mariano Rivera blew the Marlins away in the eighth---needing all of six pitches to do it, and then the Bombers added some insurance in the ninth. First, “All-or-nothing” Aaron Boone lofted a solo homer over the left field wall off of Chad Fox, and Bernie Williams put the icing on the gravy with a long, 3-run dinger to straight away center off of Braden Looper. Bernie’s shot gave him more post season homers and RBI than any player in history. Considering how many playoff games Williams has played it is a dubious distinction indeed, but no matter, he’s in a groove and the Yankees are two wins away from another title.
Roger Clemens will likely pitch the final game of his career tonight against Carl Pavano. This is a huge game for the Marlins because with a win, the Yankees would take a commanding 3-1 lead. It should be a good one.