Somewhere in the solitude of a Toronto hotel room, Mike Mussina is parked in an uncomfortable chair, wiping his tear-stained face while kicking back a swig of Molson every now and again.
And even though the Yankees and Mussina are two games into a series with the Blue Jays, the man has earned some time to mope.
After retiring 26 straight Red Sox in Sunday night's series finale, Mussina stood one out away from becoming the 17th pitcher in baseball history to toss a perfect game. The right-hander was one strike away, in fact, as he had worked Boston's Carl Everett
into a 1-2 hole before he lofted a single into left-center field.
No doubt Mussina is still replaying the tailing fastball that Everett smacked. Heck, there isn't enough Molson, Labatt's or any other libation in all of Canada to make him forget.
"I'm going to think about that pitch until I retire," he told reporters after the game. "It was disappointing. It's probably just not meant to be."
And as if Mussina's look of complete shock and confusion in the ESPN put-him-on-the-spot interview wasn't painful enough to watch, a look at the pain-staking numbers will make anyone with a pulse - that's not a Sox fan - just shake their head and say, "Po
o No one in the 89-year history of Fenway Park has thrown a perfect game.
o Everett was mired in a 3-for-32 slump, and was only in the game to pinch-hit for catcher Joe Oliver. Everett was 1-for-9 in his career against Mussina.
o It wasn't Mussina's first brush with perfection: He had taken perfect games into the eighth inning twice before.
o Mussina would have become the third Yankee pitcher since 1998 to toss a perfect game, following David Wells in '98 and David Cone's feat in '99. Ironically, Cone was on the mound for Boston on Sunday, pitching his best game of the season. The 38-year-ol
d Cone pitched 8.1 innings, struck out eight, gave up six hits and lost on an error by second baseman Lou Merloni, allowing pinch-runner Clay Bellinger to score the only run of the ballgame.
o It was the first late perfect-game bid collapse since 1995, when Pedro Martinez mowed down 27 straight Padres, only to allow a single to lead off the 10th inning in a scoreless game.
Mussina only wishes he was facing the Padres, who have been no-hit twice this season. San Diego's latest installment of offensive impotence came Monday night, as St. Louis rookie Bud Smith threw the third no-hitter of 2001.
Smith smashed salt in Mussina's wounds Monday, tossing only the fourth rookie no-hitter since 1983. It was the first no-hitter by a left-handed rookie since 1880.
It was as easy to pull for the wide-eyed, 21-year-old Opie Taylor look-alike as it was to sympathize with Mussina.
Smith looked like he needed a few Jedi mind tricks to get by Padres veterans Tony Gwynn and Rickey Henderson as well as youthful sluggers Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin.
"Nothing compares to this," Smith said in an ESPN interview, still trying to catch his breath. "I just can't believe it."
It was only Smith's fourth career win, and his first-ever complete game and shutout. He said an eighth-inning dugout chat with Mark McGwire helped him get through the game's latter stages.
"We were talking about some hit of his that got taken away. We weren't even talking about pitching," Smith said. "Oh yeah, it definitely helped."
Maybe Mussina could have used a pep talk from Roger Clemens.
Mussina expects 'The Pitch' to haunt him for long while
Published: Wed Sep 05, 2001 | Modified: Sat Aug 06, 2005 03:45 p.m.