- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

MIAMI — For the longest time, this had all the makings of another heartbreaker for Mike Mussina.

Down early. Hardly any run support. A rainy night.

And yet somehow, the ace who could never quite win these games won Game3 of the World Series. Mussina outpitched young ace Josh Beckett and the New York Yankees broke it open late, beating the Florida Marlins 6-1 last night for a 2-1 edge.

Derek Jeter doubled and scored the go-ahead run on Hideki Matsui’s single in the eighth inning, then Bernie Williams hit his record 19th postseason homer to clinch it in the ninth.

By then, Mussina’s work was done. Mariano Rivera finished it off in rapid fashion, closing with two innings as the Yankees won before a crowd of 65,731 that had mostly left by the final out.

Now, after their second straight victory, the Yankees will try to take firm hold of the Series behind Roger Clemens.

Clemens pitches tonight in the final scheduled start of his Hall of Fame career. Carl Pavano, who grew up in Connecticut rooting for the Rocket and later watched him while a prospect in the Boston system, goes for the Marlins in Game4.

Despite his 199 career wins and Cy Young potential, Mussina had never quite delivered the ultimate big game for the Yankees. Then again, New York never made it easy him, seeming to rarely score when he was on the mound.

Mussina had been 0-3 in this postseason, losing once to Minnesota and twice to Boston. But it wasn’t all his fault, as the Yankees couldn’t get a lead for him to hold.

Mussina made the first relief appearance of his career, turning in three scoreless innings against the Red Sox in Game7, in an effort that manager Joe Torre said saved the Yankees’ season.

He didn’t quite save it this time, but did a lot toward putting the Yankees’ halfway toward their record 27th championship.

A 39-minute rain delay did not disturb Mussina, at least not judging by the results. He is a creature of habit and routine, and was pawing at the damp mound but did not let it deter him.

Mussina began the game with a 4-5 career postseason record despite a sharp 3.19 ERA. His first World Series win surely added to his resume.

Mussina gave up an RBI single in the first to Miguel Cabrera and little else until the sixth.

The Marlins threatened to break the tie in the sixth when Ivan Rodriguez doubled and took third on a single by Cabrera. Mussina escaped, using his Gold Glove skills to knock down a comebacker by Derrek Lee and keeping his poise to trap Rodriguez in a rundown.

Mike Lowell was next, and he flipped his bat in disgust after striking out on a weak swing.

Beckett breezed through New York’s first 10 batters before Jeter doubled in the fourth. After a walk to Jason Giambi and a popup by Williams, the young pitcher’s problems started.

Matsui was hit by a pitch that bounced and with the bases loaded and a 2-2 count, Beckett threw a fastball to Jorge Posada that veered off the outside corner. Plate umpire Gary Darling called it a ball and Marlins manager Jack McKeon spread his arms in the dugout, wondering what was wrong with that pitch.

Beckett came back with another fastball, the kind some umps would call a strike. Darling saw it a bit low for ball four and a bases-loaded walk that tied it at 1.

“It was very close,” Rodriguez, Florida’s star catcher, said during the rain delay. “It was a pitch that could’ve gone both ways, a strike or a ball.

“I just asked where the pitch was,” he said. “He said the pitch was down.”

McKeon was really barking at Darling at that point, and the umpire held his mask and cap as he started into the dugout. Pitching coach Wayne Rosenthal trotted to the mound to settle down Beckett, who retired Karim Garcia on a grounder and then began to berate Darling from the bench.

Several other players had trouble with Darling’s calls, too. Giambi and Williams argued strikes, as did Cabrera.

The most notorious game in recent postseason history — from the standpoint of an umpire’s strike zone, that is — came at the same park in 1997. During the NLCS, Marlins rookie Livan Hernandez fanned 15 Atlanta batters with the benefit of Eric Gregg’s exceptionally wide plate.

The early focus in Game3 once again was on Florida’s Juan Pierre.

Three Yankees infielders crept onto the grass when the springy leadoff man came to bat in the first, and he still defiantly bluffed a bunt. Next, he hit a blooper to right-center that fell beyond the reach of a sliding Williams.

Pierre hustled for a double — Florida’s first extra-base hit of the Series — and when the throw back in got loose for a moment, it looked like musical chairs as five New York players went scrambling toward third base to prevent any advance.

Posada later made a pickoff throw trying to keep Pierre close shortly before Cabrera grounded his single through the right side. Cabrera hit three homers in the NLCS, but the 20-year-old rookie was 0-for-7 in this Series until then.

Cabrera fouled off a 3-0 pitch — Matsui hit a three-run homer on a 3-0 count in Game 2 — before going the opposite way for his hit. Alfonso Soriano had no chance to knock down the ball as he was drawn a couple of steps toward second base to watch Pierre.

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