- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2001

BALTIMORE Mike Mussina had to cut his pregame news conference short yesterday at Camden Yards. He had to go to a New York Yankees pitchers meeting to go over how to pitch to the team he will be facing Sunday the Baltimore Orioles.

Doesn't he know how to pitch to a team that he was a member of for 10 years?

"I played here for 10 years but I didn't pay too much attention to getting my own teammates out," Mussina said.

A strange sadness surrounds the return of probably the second greatest pitcher in the history of the modern Orioles franchise behind Hall of Famer Jim Palmer to Camden Yards in, of all things, a New York Yankees uniform.

Walking into the visitors' clubhouse for the first time, wearing a uniform other than that of the Orioles in Camden Yards all of it contributed to a strange atmosphere for Mussina in a place that is so very familiar to him.

That's nothing compared what will happen Sunday, when Mussina (2-3, 3.73 ERA) takes the mound against the only team he had ever played for in his 10 major league seasons before signing with the Yankees in the offseason.

"Yeah, it will be strange pitching in that first inning," he said. "But the whole weekend will be different. I'll just try to prepare the same way I always have."

But nothing is the same. Mussina did his warmup exercises for 10 years at Camden Yards in the outfield before the home team's batting practice and often before the visitors arrived in their clubhouse. Yesterday he did his stretching with his new teammates behind the batting cage, where Mike Bordick was taking swings for the Orioles.

"It's different coming in here and going past the home side and going to the visitor's side," Mussina said. "You play someplace for 10 years and old habits are tough to break. But it's good to be back in Camden Yards, and I'm looking forward to getting a chance to pitch."

That should be an interesting scene Sunday. Yankees games at Camden Yards usually attract a large number of New York fans under normal conditions, and often it appears the Yankees are the home team. With the Orioles' attendance down significantly this season, the Yankees presence could be even greater and accentuated by the resentment of Orioles fans for failing to re-sign Mussina.

Of course, these are the hated Yankees, and a number of Orioles fans will likely see Mussina as a traitor and let their feelings be known, too.

"I expect there will be a little bit of everything," he said. "People have been asking me that question since the season opened. It's a Yankee series. It's a high-tension series without me being on the Yankee side … people who grew up in Baltimore can't stand the Yankees, and whether I played here 10 years or 30 years, I play for the Yankees now."

It's unlikely, though, that Mussina will receive a rude reception, given the years of pleasure he gave Orioles fans. Over 10 years after breaking in as a rookie in the second half of the 1991 season, Mussina was one of the top pitchers in baseball, posting a career record of 147-81 with a 3.53 ERA with a club that suffered losing seasons in five of the 10 years he pitched for them. His 1997 playoff performance, when he allowed just four runs in 29 innings against Seattle and Cleveland, striking out 41 batters, is the best postseason performance by an Oriole since Baltimore won the 1983 World Series.

He fully expected and hoped to finish his career as an Oriole but wound up in a contract dispute with owner Peter Angelos last year never getting an offer for a contract extension that was close to market value until he had already filed for free agency, and by then the Yankees were already wooing the pitcher, with phone calls from players and manager Joe Torre and a six-year, $88 million contract. Angelos, at the last minute, offered $78 million over six years, with $18 million in deferred money.

Mussina said he holds no ill will toward the Orioles but made it clear, as he did in spring training, that he was disappointed the Orioles did not make more of an effort to re-sign him.

"The Yankees or any other club had no opportunity to talk to me until the free agency window opened," he said. "The team you play for can talk to you anytime they want."

A number of players on this year's Orioles squad are strangers to Mussina.

"There's a few guys over there that I've never seen before or didn't play with," he said. "But they will still be wearing black and orange, and it still will be strange. Cal [Ripken] and Brady [Anderson] have been the two who I played the most with, all of my 10 years. They'll be the strangest ones to pitch to."

It will be equally unusual for Ripken if he faces Mussina.

"You may know a pitcher one way when you play behind him, but it's different when you face him," Ripken said. "I don't know what he's like when I'm in the [batter's] box. It will be strange."

Despite how strange the whole experience may be, it still feels like home for Mussina. "I could never say this was foreign territory," he said.

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