Mussina believed, as he walked off the mound at Fenway Park that September day, that he had his finishing touch. Having proven himself as a 20-game winner for the first and only time, the veteran right-hander now has five years for his performance to convince Hall of Fame voters that he is deserving of enshrinement in Cooperstown.
"I think that's an argument that people are going to have opinions on both sides," Mussina said. "There's some nice things that I've been able to do. There's both sides to the argument. My numbers match up well with guys that are in the Hall of Fame, and of course there are guys that have better numbers than mine.
"I think I've done as much as I'm capable of doing at the level I want to do it at. If it creates a good argument, then that's all the better."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who inked Mussina to his original six-year, $88.5 million pact before the 2001 season, said he scores that investment as his No. 1 free-agent move while at the helm of the organization.
And count Cashman among those who expect Mussina to make the four-hour drive from rural Montoursville, Pa., for an Otsego County induction ceremony. Cashman bases his case upon the fact that Mussina pitched his entire career in a potent division, seeing more of those lineups with the implementation of the unbalanced schedule.
"There's no question in my mind he's a Hall of Famer," Cashman said. "What he's done in the period of the steroid era, unfortunately, in the American League East -- I don't care what that record is. Some people say 300 wins is an automatic plateau.
"What he did to get 270 total wins, with all those things combined -- in a division where the Red Sox and Yankees have been slugging it out ... [in] the toughest division in baseball for at least a decade -- I just think it has been spectacular for the length and consistency. He's one of the all-timers."
On a conference call with reporters Thursday, Mussina reeled off a laundry list of his credentials against induction -- it took him until the final day of his career to win a 20th game, his Yankees fell three outs shy of a World Series title in 2001, he never won a Cy Young Award (but finished second once) and was once a single strike shy of a perfect game.
|Mike Mussina finished his 18-year career tied for 33rd place in wins|
|1.||Cy Young *||511|
|2.||Walter Johnson *||417|
|3.||Pete Alexander *||373|
|Christy Mathewson *||373|
|5.||Pud Galvin *||364|
|6.||Warren Spahn *||363|
|7.||Kid Nichols *||361|
|10.||Tim Keefe *||342|
|11.||Steve Carlton *||329|
|12.||John Clarkson *||328|
|13.||Eddie Plank *||326|
|14.||Nolan Ryan *||324|
|Don Sutton *||324|
|16.||Phil Niekro *||318|
|17.||Gaylord Perry *||314|
|18.||Tom Seaver *||311|
|19.||Charley Radbourn *||309|
|20.||Mickey Welch *||307|
|22.||Lefty Grove *||300|
|Early Wynn *||300|
|28.||Robin Roberts *||286|
|29.||Fergie Jenkins *||284|
|32.||Red Ruffing *||273|
|Burleigh Grimes *||270|
|35.||Jim Palmer *||268|
|36.||Bob Feller *||266|
|Eppa Rixey *||266|
|40.||Ted Lyons *||260|
|* -- Hall of Famer|
Mussina finished his career with a record of 270-153 in 537 big league games, spanning 10 seasons with the Orioles and eight with the Yankees. He called it a "nice accomplishment" to have finished 117 games over .500, when moving 100 games over the break-even mark would be considered a big number.
It's more than "nice." If Mussina is not inducted, he would be the only pitcher with 100 more victories than losses to be excluded.
The 270 wins came in 536 starts, making Mussina a winner in 50.4 percent of his games. He may never have been the most dominant in the game, but he gave his clubs a chance to post a victory every time he took the ball. His career ERA of 3.68 is respectable, but even more impressive when compared to the league-average ERA of 4.51 during that time.
In the prism of history, Mussina's overall numbers compare with some notable Hall of Famers -- Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal, Catfish Hunter and Bob Gibson among them. In fact, Mussina's .638 winning percentage trumps all four of those legends; in his final season, Mussina surpassed six Hall of Famers on baseball's wins list -- Jim Palmer, Bob Feller, Eppa Rixey, Ted Lyons, Carl Hubbell and Gibson.
A five-time All-Star, Mussina's lone 20-win season may one day prove pivotal in deciding the case for or against enshrinement, the tipping point of a candidate close to the borderline.
He reinvented himself, moving away from the power of a mid-90s fastball and biting knuckle curve, and outwitted batters with guile and execution. His 2,813 strikeouts -- a product of both versions -- are 19th all-time, while his 785 walks, 71 wild pitches and 60 hit batters over 3,562 2/3 innings indicate excellent control of the game.
Earlier this year, Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon created a convincing argument for Mussina's Hall of Fame candidacy, pointing out that Mussina pitched his entire career in the AL East during a time period where the Yankees won six pennants and four World Series, while the Red Sox won two titles and the Blue Jays won a pair.
"There are some pretty good teams that have won a World Series coming out of this division, and he has been able to pile up some wins with minimal losses," Damon said.
And, as Cashman noted, Mussina also was ostensibly clean in an era where steroid use will be considered by voters. The strongest supplement Mussina has been linked to was his ever-present can of Mountain Dew and affinity for sugary treats, complaining loudly when manager Joe Girardi had them yanked from the clubhouse this year.
"It may turn out to be a positive for some of us who played through it and played pretty well," Mussina said.
Compiling more victories might have helped Mussina's candidacy -- then again, Jim Kaat (283), Bert Blyleven (287) and Tommy John (288) are still waiting for a call -- but Mussina had decided that his best pitching had already been completed. Mussina will go down as the rare example who left money on the table in favor of letting his resume speak for itself.
Moose among Kings of K's
|Mike Mussina finished his career in 19th place with 2,813 strikeouts|
|1.||Nolan Ryan *||5,714|
|4.||Steve Carlton *||4,136|
|6.||Tom Seaver *||3,640|
|7.||Don Sutton *||3,574|
|8.||Gaylord Perry *||3,534|
|9.||Walter Johnson *||3,509|
|11.||Phil Niekro *||3,342|
|12.||Fergie Jenkins *||3,192|
|13.||Bob Gibson *||3,117|
|17.||Jim Bunning *||2,855|
|20.||Cy Young *||2,803|
|* -- Hall of Famer|
Eight years before that final start at Fenway Park, Mussina expected that he'd be crossing another long-awaited "to-do" off his list. He joined a Yankees club that seemed on cruise control to victory, having won four of the last five World Series titles, and Mussina's ring seemed almost a given. Though Mussina had the most victories in the AL since joining the Yankees, he retired never having tasted the sweetest of October champagne.
"Seven out of eight years, we put ourselves in the postseason and gave ourselves a chance to win that championship," Mussina said. "Two trips to the World Series; the very first year I was in New York, we were in Game 7 with Mariano [Rivera] on the mound. That's all you can ask for. You can't complain too much -- we were there and we had our chances. That's the way it goes sometimes."
The list of cinch Hall of Fame starting pitching candidates from the current era is an exclusive one. Greg Maddux seems a lock for induction in 2013, while Randy Johnson continues his pursuit of 300 victories to ensure his enshrinement, following Tom Glavine's accomplishment.
Voters will eventually have a headache considering the candidacy of Roger Clemens in light of his recent issues, and while the likes of Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Curt Schilling will demand inspection, Mussina said that he hopes his statistics will be compared in the era in which he pitched.
"To ask if I should be compared to Greg Maddux or to [Tom] Glavine or anybody that's played in this era, that in itself is an honor," Mussina said. "People are going to talk about it any number of ways. I'm just glad that I've achieved enough and made enough of an impression that people are going to include me in the conversation."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.