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four batters into the game, mulder looked ripe for the plucking: three hits allowed, a run in, and another blowout loss staring him in the face. gut-check time; mulder didn't back down. he went right after willy mo pena with a nervy (and smart) first-pitch curve; not a perfect pitch, got a lot of the plate and was up, but the break was sharp and pena swung over it. three pitches later a generous call from john hirshbeck sent pena back to the dugout; mulder got ahead of dunn with a fastball, then took juuuust enough off to get him out in front on a low outside pitch. phew.

he went back to the curve against pena with two on, two out in the third; two fouled-off hooks, then a fastball on the corner for strike three called. in trouble again in the sixth, mulder went back to the curve and got dunn to chase one outside -- grounder to second. very next pitch, he got larue to chase one in the dirt. the situation, oddly enough, played into mulder's hands -- dunn and larue got overanxious, chased pitches out of the strike zone.

he still can't get a fastball past anybody, and i agree w danup's observation that mulder starts to nibble once he's ahead, pitches defensively. but he was on the corners most of the night, his breaking ball was sharp, and i was impressed with his guts. he gave up 10 baserunners in six and a third -- some nights that's one run, and some nights it's four or five. on the nights where it's one -- hallelujah let's dance, b'cause i don't think mulder's going to get a whole lot better. if he can just maintain this level -- with this team, this offense, it should be good enough. until october, anyway.