- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2001

If you are an Orioles fan, today's World Series opener is salt on the wounds.

The one that is still festering is the most recent one Mike Mussina, the Yankees' Game 1 starter who wouldn't have the opportunity for today's moment in time if it wasn't for Baltimore owner Peter Angelos' bungling.

But there is another wound that still must hurt the presence of the other starter today, Arizona's Curt Schilling.

They say time heals all wounds, but it has been 12 years now since this one was cut open, when the Orioles traded Schilling, Pete Harnisch and outfielder Steve Finley to Houston for Glenn Davis. Before Davis arrived in Baltimore, he was a slugger. After putting on an Orioles uniform, he became a slug.

Like the gift that keeps on giving, this is the trade that keeps on giving heartaches for Orioles fans. It's not enough that Schilling (22-6 this year, with a 2.96 ERA) has developed into a good pitcher but also into one of the game's best. All three of those prospects the Orioles dealt proved to be quality major league players. You'll see another one in an Arizona uniform in Finley, and Harnisch, when he has proven to be healthy, has been a front-line starter.

You can't blame Angelos for this one. This was the work of former team president Larry Lucchino and general manager Roland Hemond. To be fair, it was heralded at the time to be a good deal for the Orioles.

There, does that make you feel better? I didn't think so.

Think about the odds in having three Orioles prospects still in the major leagues, let alone quality ballplayers. Since this trade was made in 1990, how many prospects from that time have the Orioles developed that are still with the team? You have to count Brady Anderson since he came over from the Red Sox organization in the Schilling trade in 1988. But that's it.

In fact, can you name one quality major leaguer since 1990 who was a minor leaguer in the Orioles farm system at one point or another who is still with the team?

Zip. Nada. And here are three prospects who became quality major league players. That's three times more than the Orioles have from their system who are still on the roster now.

They used to be able to count Mussina as one of their own but no more. He is a Yankee now, and the greatest glory of his career may still be ahead of him in a Yankees uniform. In fact, it may start today.

Mussina's first trip to the postseason was a disaster in 1996 for the Orioles. He gave up four runs on seven hits in six innings pitched in one start against Cleveland in the Division Series, then had the horrific start in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, when, coming into Camden Yards with the series tied at 1-1, Mussina surrendered five runs on eight hits in 72/3 innings in a 5-2 loss, putting New York on top 2-1 in the series. The Yankees would go on to win the next two in Baltimore in what was the beginning of this dynasty's championship run, and Mussina was dogged with questions about his ability to handle big-game pressure.

He buried those questions with his masterful performance in the 1997 postseason. In two starts against the Mariners in the Division Series, Mussina won both games and allowed just three runs in 14 innings, striking out 16 in the process. He was even more dominant in the ALCS against Cleveland, allowing just one run on four hits over 15 innings in two starts, striking out a remarkable 25 batters. But those efforts were wasted by an Orioles team that had no clue how to play winning baseball, despite leading the American League East from Opening Day that year.

The Yankees have a clue and then some. They have written the book on how to win in the pressurized postseason that now involves three tiers of playoffs before you can declare yourself a World Series champion. Here's what the Yankees know about facing two such dominant hurlers as Schilling and Randy Johnson in the first two games of this series: "We don't have to beat them," manager Joe Torre said. "All we have to do is match them."

He's right. All they have to do is pitch as well as Schilling and Johnson. If it's even, the Yankees know they will win. They know that they will get the clutch hits needed in a close game. They know that sooner or later, if everything is all even, the game will come down to the bullpens, and, with Mariano Rivera in the Yankees pen, it is no contest game, set, match.

Torre is confident they can match Schilling and Johnson with Mussina and Andy Pettitte. Mussina has given him every reason to believe that. So far in this postseason, he is 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA. When the Yankees were down 2-0 against Oakland in the Division Series, facing elimination, Mussina pitched seven scoreless innings to lead the Yankees to a 1-0 win, turning the series around. Let's face it, if Mussina isn't in pinstripes, the Yankees are home by now. It was he, not Roger Clemens, who was their best pitcher despite a 17-11 record. His 3.15 ERA was the second best in the league despite a lack of run support (4.1 runs a game), and down the stretch he went 6-1 with a 1.31 ERA.

He will have to be at least that good or maybe even better facing Schilling, who has pitched three complete-game victories in the playoffs for the Diamondbacks with just a 0.67 ERA.

If Mussina is up to the task, his legacy as an Oriole could wind up being an afterthought when all is said and done and he is being enshrined in Cooperstown.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide