All posts by Mark Simon

I am a researcher and writer at Sports Info Solutions in Bethlehem, Pa.

That time Boston beat Los Angeles by walk-off

Thought it would be appropriate to do a walk-off in which Boston defeated Los Angeles and to do that, we flash back to June 11, 2004, a time when the Red Sox were not yet thought of as dynastic, but were on their way through the most memorable season in franchise history.

They were facing the Dodgers on a Friday night in Boston. Much like Sunday’s Super Bowl, this game was a low-scoring struggle. Neither team scored through the first six-and-a-half-innings. It was a good pitcher’s duel between Red Sox starter Derek Lowe and Dodgers pitcher Odalis Perez.

Boston scored in the seventh on a home run by (surprise) David Ortiz. That was that until the top of the ninth, and this is the part I like a lot.

Keith Foulke got the first two Dodgers out, which left the game up to none other than the No. 9 hitter, Red Sox-manager-to-be Alex Cora.

Cora reached on an infield single, keeping the game alive for … none other than current Dodgers manager and future Red Sox postseason hero Dave Roberts (how great is that?).

Except Jim Tracy pulled Roberts back and sent up a pinch-hitter, Olmedo Saenz. That seems a little odd given that Roberts was 2-for-4 in the game. Nonetheless, Saenz hit a fly ball to left field that should have ended the game. But the ball got caught in a stiff wind and Manny Ramirez muffed it. Cora came all the way around to score to tie the game.

“There goes my Gold Glove,” Ramirez told reporters with a laugh, after the game.

Foulke got the next batter out and the Red Sox went to work to end the game in the home ninth. It only took three batters. Johnny Damon led off with a walk against Dodgers lefty Tom Martin. Mark Bellhorn than had what might have been the at-bat of the game, doubling on Martin’s ninth pitch to advance Damon to third.

Given the choice of pitching to Ortiz with runners on second and third or Ramirez with the bases loaded, the Dodgers went after Ortiz. Note to self: Don’t ever pitch to David Ortiz in a walk-off situation.

Ortiz singled on a hanging 0-2 curveball to win the game.

It wasn’t the only time Ortiz would win a game vs a franchise from that part of California in walk-off fashion that season. Remember that Ortiz hit a walk-off home run to beat the Angels in Game 3 of that year’s ALDS. This was just the warm-up.

(If the Rams had won, I was going to something on Jerry Goff’s only walk-off RBI. We’ll save that for another day).

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The time Tony Gwynn got himself out of a slump with a walk-off

I worked very briefly with Tony Gwynn at ESPN back in the days when my job was to send Xeroxes of newspaper articles and player bios to the broadcasters (circa 2002 and 2003). Tony’s most distinguishing characteristic as a TV person was that he was both very nice and VERY nervous. This was amusing given how nervous he must have made pitchers every time they had to try to get him out in a big spot.

Gwynn had eight career walk-off RBIs, including three against the Mets. It’s a testament to how good of a hitter he was to point out that six of those came against left-handed pitchers. Lefties, righties, ambidextrous, whatever, you don’t get Tony Gwynn out easily.

A devoted Padres fan might be able to point out a better one, but my favorite among his walk-offs came on June 5, 1996 against the Cardinals.

This was a scoreless game through five innings, a pitcher’s duel between Donovan Osborne of the Cardinals and Andy Ashby of the Padres. The Cardinals scored two runs in the sixth inning to go ahead, with Willie McGee driving in one and a wild pitch bringing in another. The Padres countered in the seventh with a sacrifice fly by Brian Johnson and a two-out single by Andujar Cedeno.

The Cardinals went ahead in the eighth inning on John Mabry’s hit. The Padres tried to counter in their half, as Rickey Henderson singled and Steve Finley doubled Henderson to third. But Gwynn, battling a bad heel, failed to come through against lefty reliever Rick Honeycutt, grounding out to the pitcher. Cory Bailey escaped the jam to keep the lead intact. The Cardinals then added a run in the ninth on an error by Cedeno to lead 4-2 going to the home ninth inning

Tony LaRussa let Bailey start the ninth for St. Louis and that didn’t work out. Jody Reed singled and Cedeno doubled Reed to third, at which point LaRussa brought in Tony Fossas. Here’s where things get a little odd. Tony’s brother, Chris Gwynn, who entered the game as a defensive replacement in the top of the ninth inning, hit a ground ball to shortstop for what should have been the first out. But a throwing error by Hall-of-Famer Ozzie Smith made Gwynn safe at first and brought in Reed to make it 4-3

With two on and nobody out, Padres manager Bruce Bochy asked Rickey Henderson to bunt. But Fossas fielded Henderson’s bunt and threw to third for a force out. Steve Finley then erased Henderson by grounding into a 3-6 force.

So now the Padres trailed 4-3 with first and third, two outs in the ninth inning, and Tony Gwynn coming up against Fossas, who had held Gwynn hitless in five previous at-bats. Gwynn was in a 7-for-37 slump. The drama made for a cool moment.

And even cooler was what happened. Tony Gwynn hit a walk-off three-run home run on a hanging curveball, scoring his brother in front of him. It was Gwynn’s first home run of the season and he struggled to make it around the bases on his bad heel. He credited the failure in the previous at bat with getting him righted for this one.

“Even though Tony is hurting, we couldn’t have had a better guy up there,” Bochy said.

The 1996 season was an injury-plagued one for Gwynn. But he still hit. He batted .353 and won his third of four straight batting titles.

When I was prepping Tony Gwynn for his first game broadcast, I thought it was important that the rest of the broadcast crew knew as much about Tony as possible. So I stuffed as much bio information about Gwynn into each of the envelopes for the members of the broadcast crew. And then I stuck one in Gwynn’s envelope too.

So I was rather amused when I was reading a newspaper a few days later and saw (paraphrasing) this comment from Gwynn:

‘They sent me a packet with a lot of information about me. I know about me. I want to know about everyone else!’

For the record, I checked – there was no malicious intent on Tony’s part. And I think it’s cool to say I got called out by a Hall of Famer. 🙂

Lou Whitaker was master of the walk-off comeback hit

In the last 50 years, 2 players have 7 regular season walk-off hits that came when his team was trailing. Those are what we could call “walk-off comeback hits.”

I think it’s pretty cool that the players were teammates for a time – Lou Whitaker and Kirk Gibson.

I’m going to focus on Whitaker and save Gibson for another time, because of the pertinence with the recent Hall of Fame election. Whitaker is a highly-worthy candidate for induction. He’s not a perfect candidate, but he’s quite good and compares favorably to other second basemen both historically and within his era.

And he has the added bonus of being awesome at walk-offs.

Whitaker totaled 20 walk-off RBIs in a 19-year career that spanned nearly 10,000 plate appearances. And as noted, he had seven walk-off RBIs in situations in which his team trailed at the time of the plate appearance.

What’s amazing about Whitaker’s seven is how he clustered them. He had three as a rookie in 1978 and three in the final two seasons of his career.

I like his last walk-off hit because it was the last of the 2,369 hits recorded in his major league career.

It came on September 13 1995 in a game against the Brewers. The game itself was relatively meaningless. Neither the Tigers nor the Brewers were anywhere close to the division lead (the Brewers were on the outer edge of the Wild Card race). There were fewer than 9,000 fans in the stands on a Wednesday afternoon, a few weeks before the season was set to end. Whitaker and Trammell each got a rare start as it seemed to be known their time was coming to an end.

But this was a sentimental day of sorts, one in which Whitaker and Alan Trammell played in their 1,915th game as teammates, breaking an AL mark set by George Brett and Frank White. “We’ve been together longer than lots of husbands and wives,” Whitaker told reporters.

The Brewers took a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning when David Hulse hit a two-run home run. Phil Nevin got a run back in the home half when he homered, but the Tigers failed to tie after putting runners on first and second with nobody out.

The score remained 3-2 going into the home ninth. Nevin led off with a single against Mike Fetters. John Flaherty got down a successful bunt to push pinch-runner Todd Steverson to second base. Chad Curtis walked on a 3-2 pitch to bring Whitaker to the plate.

It didn’t take long for the game to be resolved. Whitaker hit a three-run home run into the second deck in right field.

“I was just hoping I remembered what to do out there,” Whitaker told reporters.

The front page headline of the Detroit Free Press sports section got it right.

“SWEET!”

Lou Whitaker Minutiae
– Whitaker hit eight walk-off home runs. Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index dates to 1925. Whitaker has the most of any Tigers player in that span.

One more unusual Yankees-Red Sox walk-off

Alright, let’s do one more from the weird walk-offs file in the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

The Yankees-Red Sox game on September 28, 1987 was a doozy. A meaningless doozy, but a doozy nonetheless. Neither team was in the race for the division lead. Based on my reading of the next day’s newspapers, it’s safe to say both squads were playing out the string.

The Red Sox scored five runs in the top of the first inning, and neither team would have probably minded if the game had stopped right there. Attendance was sparse, at least per the Boston Globe which likened it to a crowd from the Horace Clarke 1960s days. Mike Greenwell doubled in two runs. Jody Reed tripled in three. After Sam Horn homered in the fourth inning, the score was 7-0 Red Sox.

The Yankees chipped away gradually. Rickey Henderson homered in the sixth inning. Willie Randolph and Don Mattingly each drove in a run in the seventh. The score was now 7-3. The Red Sox didn’t help themselves, failing to score with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh and after putting the first two men on base in the eighth inning.

It was still a four-run lead for Boston entering the bottom of the ninth. But not for long. A double and walk started things for the Yankees and chased Jeff Sellers in favor of Wes Gardner. That didn’t help.

Gardner walked Willie Randolph to load the bases. Don Mattingly followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 7-4. Dave Winfield then doubled and suddenly it was 7-5. Out went Gardner, in came Joe Sambito to pitch to Mike Pagliarulo try to close the deal (Sambito’s an agent now). Yankees manager Lou Piniella countered with veteran infielder Jerry Royster as a pinch-hitter. Royster came through, doubling home two runs to tie the game.

How many pitchers can combine to cough up a baseball game? In this case, the answer was four. Calvin Schiraldi replaced Sambito. Piniella sent up another pinch-hitter, lefty-swinging Mike Easler to bat for Gary Ward.

Easler, known as Hit Man, had three at-bats left in his 15-year major league career. He went out in memorable fashion in this game, hitting a game-winning two-run home run into the upper deck.

The one other person who deserves recognition for this game is Bill Fulton. Fulton pitched the eighth and ninth innings, did not allow a run, and recorded his first MLB win in his third career appearance.

It was also his last. He never pitched in the major leagues again.

Thanks to Jason Southard for tipping me off to this game.

Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay linked by walk-off

Today is a day to remember July 29, 2000.

It was on that day that the Blue Jays and Mariners played 13 innings in Seattle. The Mariners were a good team, one that would go on to lose to the Yankees in the ALCS. The Blue Jays were alright, finishing 83-79, which wasn’t enough to make the postseason.

The Mariners took a 3-0 lead in the third inning on a home run by Joe Oliver and a two-run double by John Olerud. The Blue Jays scored the next five, with the go-ahead hit coming from Craig Grebeck against Jamie Moyer in the fifth inning. The Mariners rallied to tie with two runs in the sixth inning. Oliver’s RBI double drove in one and Stan Javier’s single brought in the other.

This isn’t particularly notable yet, but the key to the story is coming soon enough. The two teams went scoreless in the seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, 11th, and 12th. The Mariners loaded the bases in the 10th, but Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson struck out and future Reds manager David Bell flied out to keep the game going.

In the 13th inning, Blue Jays manager Jim Fregosi handed the ball to a struggling pitcher whose ERA was over 10. This wasn’t one of those 10-something ERAs in five innings. This was a 10.48 ERA in 62 2/3 innings of work, with 92 hits and 40 walks allowed.

Henderson led off with a single. Bell tried to bunt and ended up safe at first with Henderson going to second when catcher Alberto Castillo’s throw was late. Alex Rodriguez had a chance to win the game, but settled for advancing the baserunners one stop with a line drive single to center.

This brought up the Mariners designated hitter, who entered the day batting .349. This wasn’t one of those .350 in 75 at-bats guys. This was .349 over 332 at-bats of excellence.

And that’s how Roy Halladay came to face Edgar Martinez with the game on the line.

Martinez worked the count to 2-1 and hit a line drive single to center to win the five-hour long game. It was all part of a great night and great season for Martinez, who after the game served as grand marshal of the Torchlight Parade in the city.

That had to be a tough walk off the mound for Halladay. There were no parades thrown for him. In fact, he was sent to the minors a few days after this game, didn’t pitch again in the major leagues again until September, and he got hit hard in two of his final three appearances to finish with a 10.64 ERA, the worst by any pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched in a season.

Martinez played that season and then four more after that before retiring at age 41. He finished with a .312/.418/.515 slashline and is arguably the best designated hitter of all-time.

Halladay’s greatness had not yet fully surfaced. He returned to the majors in 2001 a different pitcher, thanks to both physical and mental coaching that got him right. By 2002 he was on a path that made him one of the game’s most dominant pitchers for the rest of the decade. Halladay became an eight-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young Award winner. Winner is a key phrase here, as even in an era in which we discount pitcher wins, we can still marvel at his 203-105 mark.

Today, they are united again, as Hall of Fame inductees. Martinez actually has a similar bond with Mariano Rivera — Martinez got the winning hit in Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS. Rivera got a key strikeout to keep the game tied a few innings prior.

It just goes to show you that you never know where a player’s path might someday lead.

Book excerpt: Mariano Rivera’s 42 postseason saves

An excerpt from The Yankees Index, published in 2016. You can buy the book here.

There is only one Babe Ruth, but in terms of domination of a position within a specific era, the closest thing to Babe Ruth is how Mariano Rivera dominated in postseason play.

During one of the most hitter-friendly periods in baseball history under the most pressure-packed of circumstances, Rivera thrived. He was 8-1 with an 0.70 postseason ERA, with 42 saves in 47 chances. The 42 saves is appropriate, as it matched the number on the back of his jersey.

Oh and though we’re focusing on October baseball, let’s not ignore the regular-season work. All that consists of is the most saves all-time (652) and the lowest ERA of any pitcher who worked at least 1,000 innings in the Live-Ball Era (since 1920).

“He is by far the greatest closer of all-time,” said ESPN baseball analyst and historian, Tim Kurkjian.

“As much of a guarantee as anyone who ever played the game,” said an admiring rival, former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.

“The ultimate safety net,” said former teammate Mike Stanton.

The path to greatness was a combination of luck, talent and work, beginning with his growing up in Panama with thoughts of being a fisherman. In February, 1990 he signed with the Yankees and perhaps some were lucky enough to see the greatness before the greatness. That season, he pitched for the Yankees Gulf Coast League team in Tampa and allowed one earned run in 52 innings.

This was the pre-Rivera, Rivera. He didn’t have the cutter then. But in some ways, it was the same Mariano. Coaches worked with him to slow his delivery, such that it would take him 1.1 seconds to the plate.

Twenty one years later, I put a stopwatch on his delivery time for three pitches as he approached the all-time saves record. He clocked at 1.1 seconds.

By 1995, Rivera was in the majors and he had his share of ups and downs, primarily as a starting pitcher. But he did enough to earn Buck Showalter’s trust such that Showalter pitched him in two huge situations. Rivera pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings of relief In Game 2 of the ALDS against the Mariners, and got the win when Jim Leyritz hit a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 15th.

Then, Rivera emerged with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning of a tied Game 5 to blow Mike Blowers away on three straight pitches. The Yankees lost that game, but in that moment they discovered a future star who could stand up to the most stressful situations.

The next year, Rivera was the set-up man to John Wetteland in the greatest one-two reliever combination in Yankees history, if not baseball history. The Yankees got back to the postseason and won it all. Rivera pitched 122 innings in relief to a 1.92 ERA between the regular season and postseason.

That offseason, the Yankees did something they would never regret. They let Wetteland go as a free agent and made Rivera the closer.

“There were questions that spring as to whether he was going to be able to do it,” said his former teammate, Mike Stanton. “I think he answered them pretty well.”

Rivera did with the help of what he called a gift from God, a cut fastball that had a sharp late break against left-handed hitters, neutralizing any advantage they might have over him. It also turned out to work well as a pitch breaking away from right-handed hitters. He first noticed it during an innocent game of catch with Ramiro Mendoza. When he threw it in games, hitters could not make good contact against it.

“His cutter may go down as the greatest weapon in the history of the game,” said ESPN SportsCenter anchor Kevin Connors, who covered Rivera while working in New York.

The turning point in Rivera’s closing career was not a win, but a loss. Every closer has to deal with failure, knowing that you were the one who cost your team the game. In Rivera’s case, he had to live through that all winter after allowing the key hit in the 1997 ALDS- a game-tying home run to Sandy Alomar Jr. with the Yankees on the verge of clinching.

Again, the Yankees lost the series, but won for the long term.

“It didn’t bother him at all (for the next season),” said former teammate Jeff Nelson. “One of the best assets he has is a short memory.”

The legend of Rivera emerged in the next three seasons, as the Yankees became a baseball dynasty. Not only was he amazing in the regular season, he was dominant come October. In 41 1/3 postseason innings, he allowed three runs and 25 hits, with 30 strikeouts and four walks. That included a major-league record 33 1/3 inning scoreless streak. In 1999, he won World Series MVP honors in a sweep of the Braves.

The Yankees went 27-1 in the 28 games in which he pitched. He was on the mound for eight of the nine series-clinching outs, including the final out of all three World Series.

The Yankees inspired a city with their pursuit of a four-pear in the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Pitching in the shadows of the September 11 tragedy, they came from behind on multiple occasions to get to Game 7.

Rivera had told his teammates before the game “Get me the ball and we will win” and it looked like he’d live up to that promise after blowing the Diamondbacks hitters away in the eighth inning.

But in the ninth inning, he and the Yankees were done in by a little wildness (he hit a batter for only the second time all season), an error (the second one of his career) and some bad luck (a broken-bat bloop over Derek Jeter’s head for the series-winning hit).

It was a crushing defeat, but Rivera was again undaunted. Two years later, he got the ball for a Game 7 and lived up to his promises. With the score tied in Game 7 of the ALCS against the Red Sox, Rivera pitched a scoreless ninth, 10th and 11th inning. And then he’d run and kiss the pitcher’s mound when Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run ended the series. Rivera was named series MVP.

“Those three innings- you’re not gonna get that with any other closer, “Nelson said. “He’s the only one (now) who can pitch three innings. He could have gone five.”

The Yankees transitioned into a different team over the next six years, one that blew a 3-0 ALCS lead to the Red Sox, than got knocked out in the ALDS in 2005, 2006 and 2007 before failing to make the playoffs in Joe Girardi’s first year, 2008.

The 2009 Yankees had a new home (the new Yankee Stadium) and several new faces (most notably CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira). But players like Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Jorge Posada remained constants.

That postseason featured Rivera at his very best. He allowed one run in 16 innings as the Yankees beat the Twins, Angels and Phillies for their 27th World Series title.

There was one more tough moment for Rivera to overcome. While shagging fly balls in Kansas City in May, 2012, Rivera tore his ACL, ending his season and potentially his career.

But Rivera would not let his career end that way. Instead, it ended the way it should.

Rivera had a 2.11 ERA and 44 saves at age 43 in 2013. Though he didn’t get another crack at October, he pitched like it was all season. He was dominant to the very end.

There was one last cool moment. In Rivera’s final game, Joe Girardi had Jeter and Andy Pettitte go to the mound to pull Rivera. “It’s time to go,” Jeter said, and the normally unflappable Rivera started to cry as he hugged his teammates.

And then he walked off the mound. The crowd cheered. Just as if it was October.

Most Career Postseason Saves
Mariano Rivera 42
Brad Lidge 18
Dennis Eckersley 15

Book Excerpt: Mike Mussina pitches 8 2/3 perfect innings

Excerpt from The Yankees Index, published by Triumph Books in 2016. Purchase the book here

Mike Stanton was fascinated with teammate Mike Mussina’s control in bullpen sessions in-between starts.

“You could watch him throw and you’d be amazed at his command,” Stanton said. “And at the end of it, he’s ticked off because he missed his spot on two of his pitches. He had that good a stuff and that good a control. He was highly, highly intelligent and the epitome of a perfectionist.”

It is a moment of imperfection for which Mussina is probably best remembered as a Yankee.

That refers to September 2, 2001, in which Mussina and former Yankee turned Red Sox pitcher David Cone locked into one of the greatest pitcher’s duels in Yankees history (or at least Yankees-Red Sox history).

The teams entered the game at Fenway Park in vastly different states. The Yankees were in first place and at the beginning of a stretch in which they won 11 of 12 games. The Red Sox were stumbling, having lost six in a row and held to exactly one run in each of their last four games (including 3-1 and 2-1 losses to the Yankees).

The nationally-televised Sunday Night Baseball game was the perfect stage for the 32-year-old Mussina, who was in the first year of a six-year contract with the Yankees after an illustrious nine seasons with the Baltimore Orioles and a highly successful college career at Stanford.

“Mussina is arguably the greatest free-agent signing the Yankees have ever had,” said YES Network head researcher, Jeff Quagliata, which would mean it ranked ahead of Reggie Jackson and CC Sabathia in terms of overall value..

Mussina entered the day in a groove, with a 1.55 ERA in his previous four starts.

Mussina’s strength was that he got a lot of strikeouts and rarely walked anyone. He currently has the second-best strikeout-to-walk rate in Yankees history, just behind Mariano Rivera.

“Facing Mike Mussina was like battling seasickness,” said former major-leaguer Doug Glanville, who went 4-for-15 against him. “He would go up in the zone then down in the zone and repeat. High fastball, nasty curve, time warp change-up. It was a battle in four dimensions. Up-Down. In-Out. Fast-Slow. Nausea-Headache. The best strategy was Alka-Seltzer.”

Most K per BB – Yankees History
Mariano Rivera 4.1
Mike Mussina 4.02
David Wells 4.01

Added Yankees coach Willie Randolph in Mussina’s Yankeeography “He was everything a pitcher should be.”

Cone, formerly a Yankees star, was a formidable opponent, albeit one whose best days were behind him. He knew the hitters in the Yankees lineup well, having played with them from 1995 to 2000. Cone also had thrown a perfect game for the Yankees two years earlier.

Mussina was throwing hard, often hitting 95 MPH with his fastball, and with a great changeup and nasty knuckle-curve which dropped dirt-bound to elude hitters’ bats. After Cone pitched a scoreless first inning, stranding Derek Jeter on second base, Mussina got the Red Sox on a pair of strikeouts and a lineout to short.

Thus began a pattern that lasted through eight innings. Cone allowed a baserunner in seven of them, but none crossed the plate.

Mussina allowed nothing. No runs, no hits and no errors.

In the top of the ninth inning, the Yankees broke through, thanks to an error by Red Sox second baseman Lou Merloni and Enrique Wilson’s subsequent RBI double. The Yankees went to the bottom of the ninth up 1-0 and with Mussina on the verge of what Yankees play-by-play announcer John Sterling had previously called “baseball immortality.”

The first two hitters in the home ninth went down, albeit with a little stress. Troy O’Leary grounded to first, where Yankees reserve Clay Bellinger preserved the bid with a diving stop. Merloni then struck out.

Then Red Sox manager Joe Kerrigan did something odd. He sent up Carl Everett to pinch-hit for his catcher, Joe Oliver.

Everett was picked 10 spots ahead of Mussina, by the Yankees in the 1990 MLB Amateur Draft. He’d shown great hitting prowess in 1999, when he hit .325 with the Astros and 2000, when he hit .300 with 34 home runs in his first year in Boston.

But in 2001, he was not the same Everett. In 20 games prior to this pinch-hitting appearance, he was hitting .187. Not only that, he was 1-for-9 with seven strikeouts in his career against Mussina (all of which occurred that season).

It looked like Mussina was going to get Everett again. He went ahead 1-2, than made a decision that likely haunts him to this day. He went with a high fastball and Everett got his quick bat around on it and lined a single to left center field.

“I’m going to think about that pitch until I retire,” Mussina said. “It’s probably just not meant to be.”

Mussina said that for good reason. Close but not quite was an important part of who he was as a pitcher.

“That game sums up his career and his Hall of Fame candidacy,” said Patrick Bohn, a Yankees fan from Ithaca New York, who along with his friend Ryan Vooris, has started a website promoting Mussina’s greatness. “It was so close to being there … and then it wasn’t.”

Mussina is one of many great pitchers who never threw a no-hitter or perfect game. He came close … many times. He took a perfect game into the ninth inning against the Indians in 1997, a no-hitter into the eighth inning that same season, and a perfect game into the eighth inning against the Orioles in 1998.

He couldn’t quite close them out. Mussina threw 10 regular-season complete games in which he allowed two hits or fewer , the second-most of anyone since the start of the 1990 season.

Mussina was also an integral part of two of the Yankees best wins of the 21st century. He threw seven scoreless innings in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS against the Athletics, a 1-0 win best remembered for “The Flip” by Derek Jeter that saved the tying run from scoring.

Mussina also pitched three scoreless innings and escaped a first-and-third no-out jam he inherited from Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Red Sox in the first relief appearance of his career. The Yankees overcame a four-run deficit to win that game on Aaron Boone’s walk-off home run. They lost the World Series in six games to the Marlins, though Mussina won his only start in that Fall Classic

Mussina never achieved the perfection he was seeking, but he had about as perfect an ending to a career that a pitcher could have, short of winning the World Series.

On the final day of the 2008 season, he pitched six scoreless innings against the Red Sox in Fenway Park to earn his 20th victory. He became the oldest pitcher to reach 20 wins for the first time (age 39).

There was a near-miss aspect to this as well, as the Yankees won the World Series the year after Mussina retired.

He finished his career with a 270-153 record, with 123 of those wins coming for the Yankees. He also won the seventh Gold Glove Award of his career, his third with the Yankees. He was able to retire that offseason with the satisfaction of knowing he’d achieved just about everything he could.

“His career has been overlooked and underappreciated,” Bohn said. “I hope he gets into the Hall of Fame. And I hope that people realize how great he was.”