Hill just too tough to climb

The Baltimore Sun

Mike Mussina will finish the season stuck on 19 wins for the third time in his career.

Some might believe Mussina is karmically destined to fall just short of pitching greatness. He has not won 20, thrown a no-hitter, pitched for a world champion or picked up a Cy Young Award.

But I don't think the former Oriole is cursed. It's just hard to win three times in four starts, especially when two of his likely opponents - the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago White Sox - are playoff contenders fighting for position.

Mussina seems slated for a near gimme Sunday, when he'll face the putrid Seattle Mariners and 4-14 junkballer Carlos Silva. After that, the sledding gets rougher.

His next probable opponents are Matt Garza of the Rays and Gavin Floyd (Mount St. Joseph) or Mark Buehrle of the White Sox. The Rays have the best record in the American League and the White Sox have a top-10 offense, so I expect at least one no-decision or loss out of those two starts by Mussina.

That would set him up to go for 20 against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 24. Sounds good, right? But Mussina's likely opponent that day is A.J. Burnett. In his past three starts against the New York Yankees, Burnett has struck out 29 in 24 1/3 innings and allowed just four runs.

Mussina has forged a remarkable comeback season after many "experts" wrote him off for good in April. He has given the Yankees six or seven good innings in almost every start and, despite his age (39), has pitched better down the stretch than he did in the spring. All of that will accrue to his credit when we judge his career.

But my guess is that Burnett will beat him and cost him 20 one more time. Come back to me when we argue his Hall of Fame case. Then, I'll be on Moose's side.

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