Mussina W12-3 | 6.1IP | 7H | 1ER | 2BB | 5K | 4.54ERA
NEW YORK -- When Mike Mussina is at his best, he has an arsenal full of pitches, any of which he can go to at any point in a game to get a crucial out. When he is at his worst, he labors through as many innings as he can, hoping his offense can pick him up. Thursday was one of the good days for Mussina, as he handcuffed the Indians over 6 1/3 innings in New York's 7-1 victory.
"Mussina was due for one of these," said manager Joe Torre. "He has that kind of ability, and he's a big-game pitcher."
Although Mussina was 11-3 coming into the game, he had been victimized for five or more runs in three of his last four outings, raising his ERA from 4.07 to 4.72 in that span. Heading into the All-Star break, Mussina needed a good performance, and he got just what he needed, despite pitching on a sticky, 93-degree day.
"I had some life in my fastball and was able to get off-speed pitches over the plate. That combination for me usually turns out to be pretty good," Mussina said. "I could go to fastballs, cutters, curves or even changeups to get outs, and those are the days when it's fun to pitch, because you can go to more than one thing."
Mussina got through the first two innings with relative ease, issuing just a two-out walk in the first. But after the Indians got on the board in the third on Omar Vizquel's RBI double, Mussina retired Lee Stevens on a groundout, and after intentionally walking the red-hot Jim Thome to load the bases, got Travis Fryman to fly out to end the Cleveland scoring threat.
"I wasn't going to let him be the one to beat us," Mussina said of Thome, who had hit home runs in seven straight games before Thursday. "If someone else comes through, so be it. I wasn't going to let him beat us."
Mussina allowed two-out hits in both the fourth and sixth innings, but retired the next batter for the third out in both cases, as the Yankees held a 4-1 lead heading into the seventh. That is when Mussina got into his biggest jam of the game.
After allowing singles to John McDonald and Eddie Perez to start the seventh, Matt Lawton hit what appeared to be a double-play ball to Enrique Wilson at shortstop, who had replaced the injured Derek Jeter. But Wilson bobbled the ball, loading the bases with no outs.
Mussina got Vizquel to hit a grounder back to the mound, where Mussina fielded it and fired home to force out McDonald. Torre called on Mike Stanton to relieve Mussina, and Stanton retired pinch-hitter Ellis Burks on a popout and Thome on a flyout to end the inning.
"I thought the biggest out he got was Vizquel," Torre said. "After Enrique made the error, bases loaded and no one out, we had a chance to lose the lead, but he got a big out with Omar."
"He ran into a couple of spots where he had some problems, but he made great pitches to get out of it," said catcher Chris Widger, who worked with Mussina for the first time. "You can see what a professional he is by going out there and making better pitches to get out of trouble."
Jason Giambi added a three-run home run in the eighth to put the cherry on Mussina's 12th win, sending the right-hander into the break on a high note.
"Whether you're going into a layoff or not, coming off of a positive outing is always good when you've struggled a bit," Mussina said. "I have to keep working over this time, because I could go back out there in eight or nine days and not be sharp. You don't want to follow up a good outing with a bad one."
Mussina's record now stands at 12-3, and the Yankees have emerged victorious in 15 of his 18 starts. After offering him little run support throughout the 2001 campaign, Mussina's teammates have more than made up for it, averaging almost seven runs per game for him this season.
"I think I've gotten a lot of support and been a little fortunate, but I've got a long way to go," Mussina said. "Twelve wins is 12 wins, and I'm not going to complain about it. But I assume that I have to pitch better than I have for it to continue, and that's my objective.
"The bottom line of the game is winning and losing, and I'm pleased that we've won a large number of the games I've pitched," he added. "But I'm not going to go into the second half assuming that we're going to score seven or eight runs every time I pitch, either. I have to assume that there are going to be some low-scoring games that I'll have to win, too."
Most of all, a good performance like this will leave him with pleasant thoughts as he returns to his Pennsylvania home for three days away from baseball beginning Monday.
"It definitely helps," Mussina said. "After not doing too well the last three or four turns, it's nice to have a good one again."
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