Mussina musters record-breaking 15 Ks in ALCS

Written by: Aaron McCoy

After dropping Game 1 of the 1997 American League Championship Series to the Baltimore Orioles, the Cleveland Indians erased a two-run deficit in Game 2 by way of a Marquis Grissom three-run homer in the eighth, sealing a 5-4 victory for the AL Central champs.

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With the series tied 1-1, the Orioles traveled to Cleveland where they would start their ace, Mike Mussina, who broke Baltimore’s single-season strikeout record earlier in the season. In his seventh year in the bigs, Mussina recorded 218 Ks during the ’97 regular season.

Heading into Game 3 of the ALCS, Mussina held a tight 1.93 ERA through two postseason starts – winning both games and fanning 16 batters in 14 total innings.

On Oct. 11, 1997, “Moose” would utilize his fastball and knuckle-curve to add to his total and strike out career-high 15 batters through seven innings, setting a then-league championship record for Ks in a single game.

“Mussina was outstanding,” Orioles manager Davey Johnson told the Associated Press. “He threw a lot of pitches in seven innings, but still struck out a lot of guys.”

Mussina was less than pleased, however, as his team would lose Game 3 in a 2-1 pitcher’s duel in which Cleveland’s Orel Hershiser went seven innings himself, allowing no runs and just four hits. With little run support, Mussina’s record-breaking start on the mound could not secure a Baltimore win, and the Indians would take a 2-1 series lead over the Orioles.

“I only enjoy winning,” Mussina told the AP. “I don’t like accomplishing things that are mostly meaningless in the whole scheme of things. They’re not going to look back when the series is over and say, ‘Mussina struck out 15 guys so that’s one point for his team.’ It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just an asterisk.”

That “asterisk” referred to a strikeout for each player in Cleveland’s starting nine, as well as a trio of hat tricks for Bip Roberts, Omar Vizquel and Brian Giles and the dreaded golden sombrero (four strikeouts) for Grissom. Mussina allowed only one run in his impressive performance – a seventh-inning RBI single from Matt Williams that scored Jim Thome from second base.

In the bottom of the 12th, Grissom stole home after failed squeeze bunt attempt and scored the game-winning run.

Conceding only three hits, the significance of his day on the mound was not completely lost on Mussina, as the future Hall of Famer kept his team in striking distance throughout the game.

“My job is to keep us close and get late in the game and give us a chance to win,” Mussina told the Baltimore Sun. “And it happens in many, many different ways. Today was one of the extreme ways.”

Cleveland won Game 4 and Baltimore took Game 5, sending the series back to Camden Yards ,where Cleveland won Game 6 1-0 in 11 innings – Mussina allowed just one hit and struck out 10 over eight innings – to advance to the World Series.

Mussina would spend three more seasons in Baltimore before signing with the New York Yankees as a free agent prior to the 2001 season. Finishing his playing days in New York in 2008, Mussina posted a 3.68 ERA, a 270-153 record and 2,813 strikeouts over his 18-year career, and he earned five All-Star Game selections and seven Gold Glove Awards.

He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019.

Aaron McCoy was the 2023 public relations intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Leadership Development

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