Mussina W7-2 | 6IP | 7H | 5ER | 1BB | 5K | 4.42ERA
BOSTON -- The Red Sox picked on the wrong team, on the wrong night, to play Home Run Derby. Just as you don't play nine-ball with anyone who has "Fats" in his name, you don't play longball with any team with "Bombers" as part of its nickname. The Red Sox made the wrong choice, so the Yankees were able to leave town with a very satisfying split of their four-game series.
Boston started it -- with back-to-back yard shots in the second by Brian Daubach and Shea Hillenbrand off Mike Mussina, who regularly takes the mound with a power posse. By the time the Yankees were done replying, they had littered Fenway Park with six home runs for a dozen runs in their 14-5 win over the Red Sox.
The breakout -- New York had scored a total of 12 runs in the first three games of the weekend series -- jacked the Yankees' Major League-leading total to 82 homers.
Moreover, it represented another windfall for Mussina, who has flip-flopped his fortunes since stewing the last two seasons as the AL's least-supported pitcher. Mussina has gone from Eraser, whose mere appearance rubbed out his own team's offense, to The Firestarter.
In Mussina's last four starts alone, the Yankees have mashed 19 home runs -- or nearly 25 percent of their season output -- while scoring a total of 41 runs. That was a half-season's worth for him in both 2000 and 2001, when he was barely a .500 pitcher despite a sharp ERA of 3.49.
Mussina was owed. He is about to shred all the IOUs. He is 7-2 this season, despite a 4.42 ERA.
"That's just the way it happens sometimes," said Mussina. "The last couple of years, I haven't been out there when it's been happening, so maybe right now it's my turn for a while. I'm not going to complain."
The Mussina-muscle show is all right with Joe Torre, too. The combination enabled the Yankees to change their Sox -- they open up a series Monday with Chicago's White -- only one game down to Boston in the AL East standings.
"After losing the first two, it's like a sweep," said the Yankees manager. "It's always a lot of fun playing here. But it wears you out."
The numbers-posting gremlins inside Fenway Park's quaint hand-operated scoreboard certainly were worn out keeping up with the eight-homer game. The Yankees' first nine runs came on homers (three-run job by Jason Giambi, two-run blows by Jorge Posada and Ron Coomer, two solo shots by Alfonso Soriano); later, the exclamation point came courtesy of Robin Ventura's three-run pinch-hit strike.
All this yard-busting makes Torre a little edgy. "We hit home runs, but I don't like for us to approach it like home-run hitters," he said. "It's important that we continue to grind every at-bat."
The best thing about the flexing throughout the lineup is the message it plants in the Yankees' minds: We can slug our way out of any hole. Sunday's deficit was modest - 2-0 to left-hander Darren Oliver going into the fourth. But there will be times they will need this lifeline.
"The last couple of years, we've felt a lot of pressure not to get too far behind," Torre said. "We didn't have the ability to go head-to-head with people. Now we do. It's an added dimension. We'll come to expect more of an opportunity to come back in games."
The new dimension helped Mussina stay in this game. On a night he lacked the stuff to give the Yankees dominance, he still gave them innings, lasting six after the three starters who preceded him here went an average of four.
Mussina's Fenway mastery wasn't in evidence. The last time he pitched here, he retired the first 16 men he faced. The time before that, he retired the first 26 Sox (before Carl Everett's single ruined that budding perfect game on Sept. 2).
Sunday, he retired three straight before Daubach and Hillenbrand hit 805 feet worth of homers. They were notable: In 110 1/3 previous career innings here, Mussina had allowed a total of two homers.
"I felt kind of flat," Mussina conceded, "and tried to make things work out. But it wasn't like I was getting beat up. ... Besides the two home runs, everything else was either a chopper up the middle or grounder into the outfield off the end of the bat.
"Sometimes that's how the breaks work out. Fortunately, by that time we'd scored a lot of runs. Weird game, home runs all over the place. Good thing we got most of them."
That's the way it goes these days when Mussina and his power posse are in the house.
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