Countdown to Spring Training: 35

Today's post is brought you by the number 35 and the letter M. A lot of men wore #35 for the Yankees. Ralph Houk is the man with the most years as #35. He wore it from 1958-1965 and then from 1966-1973. Guys like John Wetteland, Lee Guetterman and Phil Niekro all wore it and Yogi Berra even wore #35 in 1947.

For this post, I chose to focus on my favorite #35, Mike Mussina.

Mike Mussina came over to the Yankees from the Baltimore Orioles after signing a contract in November 2000.

His career in Pinstripes was interesting. In his first year, he was an out away from a perfect game and an out away from a World Series ring. Both were broken up in heartbreaking fashion.

In September 2001, Moose was on the verge of pitching a perfect game in Fenway Park when pinch hitter Carl Everett hit a bloop single to left to break it up. Moose retired the next batter and finished with a one-hitter.

In November 2001, we all know what happened against the Diamondbacks.

Mussina finished his first year with the Yankees with a 17-11 record and a 3.15 ERA. He nearly matched his career high in strikeouts with 214. He had 218 in 1997 with the Orioles. The following year he went 18-10 with a 4.05 ERA and the Yankees were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

Not that it was Mussina's fault. That particular early exit was a total pitching staff failure. Though as the years went on, certain Yankee fans would come to blame Moose for the Yankees' shortcomings in the playoffs.

2003 saw the Yankees win the AL East once again and they were matched up against their rivals, the Boston Red Sox,  in the American League Championship.

Mussina's two starts were disasters. But then he was called upon to make his first-ever relief appearance in Game 7 when Roger Clemens faltered. And what did he do? He pitched an inning and two-thirds of scoreless/hitless ball and kept the Yankees in the game.

In 2004, Mussina finished the year with 164.2 innings. It was the first time since his 1994 campaign that he finished with less than 200 innings. He suffered a groin injury in June of that year and ended up with a 12-9 record and a 4.59 ERA.

From 2005-2007 Mussina didn't pitch more than 197 innings. He really began to struggle with injuries and yet, still managed to win over 10 games in each of those seasons. In fact, Moose never won fewer than 10 games in any given season his entire pro career - once he became a full-time player.

To that end, Mussina could never reach the illusive 20 win mark until 2008 which ironically was the first year the New York Yankees missed the playoffs since 1995.

Moose's 2008 campaign was stellar. At age 39 he finished with a 20-9 record, a 3.37 ERA, he ended up with 200.1 innings pitched, he racked up 150 strikeouts, gave up 214 hits and walked 31 batters.

We all knew that Moose was going to retire after 2008 and the fact that he finally got over the "20-win season" hump, made his decision a lot easier.

In subsequent years, Moose has made appearances at the Stadium. He pitched in the Old Timers' game and he threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Opening Day 2011. He was also voted into the Orioles Hall of Fame in 2012.

Aside from his pitching, I really miss Moose's dry sense of humor and sarcastic replies during postgame interviews. They were legendary. One time, Suzyn Waldman asked Mussina how he injured himself and he answered, "Pitching."