Regardless of the weather, regardless of whether the forecast of clouds over Camden Yards holds up, the starters in today's Game 6 of the American League Championship Series will be pitching in the shadows. Not the kind that make you squint, but the kind that make you flinch. They will be shadows of their own creation.
For Mike Mussina of the Orioles, they will be those he has cast since the postseason began. They have stretched from two dominating performances in the Division Series against Randy Johnson and the Seattle Mariners to his 15-strikeout masterpiece against the Cleveland Indians in Game 3 of this series.
For Charles Nagy of the Indians, they will be those he has cast for stretches during his six regular seasons but has yet to duplicate in the postseason, including a disappointing performance in both his start against the New York Yankees in the Division Series and his start against the Orioles in Game 2.
"I felt like I threw the ball well the last game," Nagy said of a 5 2/3 -inning stint in which he gave up four earned runs. "We won the game [5-4 on Marquis Grissom's three-run home run] and that's all that matters. I know I didn't get out of a jam in the sixth. If people want to look at that as a reflection of me, I don't care."
The 30-year-old right-hander has had his problems in the postseason, walking six and giving up four earned runs in 3 2/3 innings of a 6-1 Game 3 loss to the Yankees. Manager Mike Hargrove talked to Nagy about being too "picky" about his pitches. In his outing against the Orioles, Nagy was more aggressive but no more successful.
One of Nagy's career postseason highlights came against the Orioles last year when he struck out 12 of 15 hitters in one stretch of Game 4. That too came after he had been knocked around in games 1 and 4, giving up nine runs and 15 hits in 11 1/3 innings. Except for a strong, eight-inning no-decision against the Mariners in the 1995 ALCS, Nagy has not backed up an 89-65 regular-season record in the playoffs.
Asked whether he looks at the postseason as a challenge, Nagy said, "Every game is a huge game."
Nagy said he won't get caught up in trying to compete with Mussina, who has seemingly shed his reputation for not being a big-game postseason pitcher (13 2/3 innings, eight earned runs and 15 hits in two starts last year) with his back-to-back victories over Johnson and his sizzling seven-inning performance Saturday against the Indians.
"Mike's an unbelievable pitcher," said Nagy, whose career-best performance came in a one-hitter against the Orioles in 1992. "But I still have to go out there and do my job. My job is to get my guys in the dugout as fast as possible. I can't worry about anything else."
Mussina's job is to get the Orioles into Game 7 tomorrow. So it seems of little concern to the 28-year right-hander that some wonder about his ability to again come back on three days' rest, as he did in the Division Series-clinching Game 4 against the Mariners.
Asked on the team's charter flight home from Cleveland whether he was tired, Mussina said, "No not really. I don't feel tired and I'm not worried about it. There'll be time to be tired in November."
By then, the long shadows of the off-season will be here.
The Orioles' Mike Mussina and Indians' Charles Nagy -- who will face each other today in Game 6 of the ALCS -- have been two of baseball's most prolific winners the past three seasons. A look:
T1. Mike Mussina, Orioles 69
T1. Greg Maddux, Braves 69
T3. Pat Hentgen, Blue Jays 58
T3. Charles Nagy, Indians 58
T3. Tom Glavine, Braves 58
6. John Smoltz, Braves 57
Mike Mussina has a 1.71 ERA in three 1997 postseason starts (games 1 and 4 of the Division Series and Game 3 of the Championship Series). A look:
Vs. .. .. .W-L .. ..IP .. ..H .. ..ER .. ..K .. ..BB
Sea. .. ... .W .. ...7 .. ..5 .. ...2 .. ..9 .. ...0
Sea. .. .. ..W .. ...7 .. ..2 .. ...1 .. ..7 .. ...3
Cle. .. .. .ND .. ...7 .. ..3 .. ...1 .. .15 .. ...2
Tot. .. ...2-0 .. ..21 .. .10 .. ...4 .. .31 .. ...5
Pub Date: 10/15/97