Among the people to participate in Sunday’s Mike Mussina Hall of Fame celebration at Yankee Stadium was Aaron Boone, the manager of the Yankees. Boone and general manager Brian Cashman presented Mussina a $35,000 check from the Yankees to help high school sports in Mussina’s hometown of Montoursville, Pennsylvania.
Mussina and Boone are linked in Yankees history. In Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series against the Red Sox, Mussina threw three shutout innings in his first career relief appearance and Boone homered in the 11th inning to send the Yankees to the World Series.
“Loved playing behind him,” Boone said. “When we won Game 7 in ’03, he’s my biggest memory of that and seeing the aftermath and just seeing him -- just the joy that he was kind of experiencing in the aftermath of that game.”
Joy is not the first word that comes to mind when you think of Mussina, who was cerebral and certainly could be prickly during his 18-year career. But retirement (and perhaps coaching baseball, basketball and golf in his hometown) seems to have softened Mussina, and getting inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer certainly has allowed him to show the charming side of his personality.
Mussina was honored on the field before the Yankees-A’s game. He thanked Yankees fans during his remarks for always making him feel welcome here.
And, of course, he was happy to talk about Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS when asked.
Mussina replaced Roger Clemens with none out in the fourth, runners on first and third and the Yankees trailing 4-0. He struck out Jason Varitek, got Johnny Damon to ground into an inning-ending 6-6-3 double play and threw two more shutout innings.
“That’s probably one of the two or three moments that got me to be able to sit here,” Mussina said. “At the time, as it’s happening, it’s not a big moment. I’m in relief in a game that we’re probably going to lose. Pedro [Martinez] is pitching for the other team and we’re already down 4-0. Most likely, this isn’t going to work out for us.
“Somehow, after the fact, after everything plays out and we win the game and there’s all this excitement and the emotion level is through the roof, you look back on it and, man, that turned out to be a pretty big deal when it didn’t seem like a big deal at all. It seemed like mop-up time at the time. If I do that 20 times, how many times do we come back and win? Once? Twice? Maybe. And here’s that one shot and we end up winning and going to the World Series and it’s been 16 years almost and it’s still talked about close to as much as some of the world championships they’ve won here.”
Mussina never got a World Series ring. Unlike previous Yankees Hall of Famers, he didn’t get his number retired by the team (No. 35 currently is being worn by reliever Cory Gearrin). He didn’t get a plaque or a monument in Monument Park.
But he got a plaque in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. And that’s not too shabby.