Mike Mussina has a .639 career winning percentage, an $88.5 million contract, a reputation as one of the finest pitchers in baseball and absolutely no business making three consecutive starts against the incomparable Pedro Martinez. Yankees manager Joe Torre, wisely seeing no need to put the whip to Mussina in midseason, gerrymandered his rotation to spare Mussina what would have been a third straight duel with Martinez on Monday.
"It wears on you," Torre said after Martinez beat Mussina 3-0 on May 30, six days after Mussina had defeated Martinez 2-1 in a game in which the two combined for 24 strikeouts. "When you go against Pedro, you know every pitch you make could be the ball game. It's like facing Koufax." (In Monday's game Martinez struck out 10 but got a no-decision in Boston's 7-6 loss.)
Thanks to the new unbalanced schedule, under which teams in the same division play one another as many as 20 times, episodic pitching duels are back. Already this season the Indians' Chuck Finley and the Tigers' Steve Sparks have faced each other four times. While that matchup might not get the blood boiling, fans should relish the prospect of frequent divisional showdowns between aces: Arizona's Randy Johnson versus Los Angeles's Kevin Brown, or Milwaukee's Ben Sheets versus the Cubs' Kerry Wood.
Torre's bow to Martinez, however, is more proof that Pedro has no peer, unless you count Sandy Koufax from 1961 to '66. Martinez's numbers since 1997 (84-26, 2.11 ERA, .764 winning percentage, 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings through Monday) have closely tracked those of Koufax (129-47, 2.19, .733, 9-4) over his best span. Only two pitchers have beaten Pedro twice in his 105 games with Boston: Andy Pettitte of the Yankees and John Snyder, then with the White Sox. In the May 30 game, Mussina was toast by the third inning, when the Red Sox had three runs. Martinez is 58-3 when he gets that much support.
Meanwhile, New York hitters have not been helped by seeing more of Martinez. "If I get to see Pedro 100 times it's not any more comfortable than if I see him 20 times," says Tino Martinez. "He has so many weapons, he's different every time." Indeed, Martinez finished his eight shutout innings on May 30 by fanning Derek Jeter on a big-breaking, 89-mph cut fastball, a pitch Jeter called a slider. "Something I'd never seen," Jeter said. "It's like, 'I've been saving a slider for the 50th at bat against you.' On a full count! It's like he's inventing things out there."
No, Mussina didn't deserve a third dose of Martinez. Pedro, tired of New England's fixation with the Yankees and the curse of Babe Ruth, has bigger duels in mind, anyway. "I don't believe in damn curses," he says. "Wake up the damn Bambino and have me face him. Maybe I'll drill him in the ass."