Special to Page 2
Look at the cover of the Oakland A's 2002 information guide. There's Tim Hudson -- "Huddy" -- a bulldog with a soft southern twang. Next to him is Barry Zito, the surfer with the Zen curveball. Who is the other guy? It's Mark Mulder.
Before the second season begins, we figured you ought to know a little more about what makes Mulder tick, so we sent Eric Neel into the box, armed with 10 Burning Questions. How did Neel do? He hung in there, but he couldn't shake the feeling Mulder was toying with him.
1. You guys look like a tight-knit bunch on the field. How do you get along off it?
Mark Mulder: It's a great group. We go out -- eight, 10, 15 guys at a time some nights. We really do all get along. There's not one guy on this team who, if he called me to go out, I'd say no to. We have a lot of fun together.
2. When you're not pitching, when you're watching Hudson, Zito or Lidle, are you thinking through things with them, pitch by pitch?
You're not going to see too many better pitching performances than what he did.
Are there other pitchers in the league who you watch and learn from?
Mulder: Everybody has their own stuff and their own game, but I do try to pick things up. You look to see how they reveal weaknesses of hitters, and you imagine how you can use your strengths against them. At the same time, you can't pitch to a hitter's weakness, you have to pitch to your strength. If someone hits the ball real well down and away, fine, I'm gonna go there, too, because that's my strength.
3. I asked Eric Chavez about his superstitions. Are you superstitious at all?
Mulder: About the only thing I don't do is step on the foul line. I think a lot of pitchers are like that. But if I give up a few runs, I make sure I do step on the line on the way off the field. Other than that, I'm not a very superstitious person. I don't eat the same thing before I pitch or anything, I just go with the flow and be ready to pitch.
4. If you could have any one guy's arm, any guy from any time in baseball history, and feel what it was like to pitch with it, whose arm would you choose?
Who is the one guy in the league you most hate to give up a hit to?
Mulder: Bonds crushes me. I got him out this year, but I've given up three homers to him in three years now. He crushes me. In spring training this year, he went 3-for-3 off me and in his fourth at-bat I got him to pop up and our outfielders misplayed it and it fell in for a double. As he walked off the field that inning, I said to him, "Would you let me get you out, one time?!" and he just said, "Aw, you will, you will." Yeah, right! With him, when he comes to the plate, he's just thinking, "All right, here's another guy that I'm facing." But with me, it's like, "Oh great, here he comes again."
5. What is the difference between winning the AL West outright and going in as a wild-card team?
Mulder: You start your season looking to win your division. We're not just satisfied with making the postseason. We want to win our division, and we want to finish up the season well, we want to finish strong.
6. This is a storied franchise, with a lot of great players and pitchers through the years. Which of the old-time A's do you most identify with?
Mulder: I think there's a collection of them. You could take someone like Dave Stewart and compare him to Huddy. There have been some great pitching staffs here, and we want to be one of them, you know? It's a collection of guys for us. We want to be like one of the great staffs of the past. When Welch and Stewart and those guys were winning 27 and 22 games in a year -- that's unbelievable. That's what we want to be compared to.
7. If you could take a mulligan on anything in your career so far, what would you want to do over?
Mulder: The numerous amount of home runs I've given up to lose a game or tie a game. In my last start, I did it ... that was the last batter I was going to face. All I had to do was get Alex Ochoa out, and he hit a homer. I had a 1-0 shutout going in Texas, where I've never really pitched well, and it was the bottom of the eighth, with a 3-2 count and two outs, and I give up a 3-run homer and lose 3-1. Those sorts of things are the times you remember.
You want that one pitch back. Sometimes it's not even the pitch, it's just the location you want back. I feel like the majority of the time, if I make my pitch, the guy's going to get out, and if I make my pitch, he's definitely not going to hit a homer. But there are times when I just don't make my pitch, you know? On the one to Ochoa, it was a fastball that was supposed to be down and away, and I threw it up and over the plate.
8. If it was all taken away from you tomorrow, what would you miss most about the game?
Mulder: Playing a kids' game for a living. My teammates. I don't think it would be just one thing. It would be everything: the guys, the camaraderie, the travel, the games.
9. What CDs are in your player right now?
Chavez was telling me that he liked it when you pitched because he knows there will be techno playing in the locker room.
Mulder: Oh yeah, I'll play that. It'll get me going. Anything but country.
10. Tell us something about Art Howe that would surprise most people.
Mulder: Since my rookie year, it seems like he's losing more hair ... no, I'm just kidding. If anything, we make him lose his hair. Seriously, I don't know if this will surprise people, but the thing about Art is, he's a players' manager. He stays away from what we do. He lets us go out and do what we want to do, as long as we show up to play.