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Yankees 6 @ Rangers 17

Wednesday July 31, 2002

Mussina L13-5 | 3IP | 11H | 7ER | 0BB | 1K | 4.83ERA

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Despite leading the Yankees with 13 victories, Mike Mussina has had a tough season. The right-hander has struggled with his consistency, looking unhittable one start and unbearable the next. Wednesday was one of the latter outings, as Mussina gave up seven runs in three innings in the Yankees' 17-6 loss to the Rangers.

"It didn't look like he could throw his fastball where he wanted to, and not being able to throw your fastball for strikes, they were sitting on off-speed pitches," manager Joe Torre said. "This is a ballclub that will let you know when your stuff isn't right. They can put up some points in a hurry."

The Yankees have given Mussina tremendous run support all season, and he has needed it on many occasions. New York has averaged more than six runs per start for Mussina, who brought a 13-4 record into the game despite a 4.47 ERA.

Jason Giambi got the Yankees on the right track with a solo home run in the first to give Mussina a 1-0 lead, but that wouldn't last long as the Rangers torched the right-hander for six runs in the second inning.

Ivan Rodriguez led off the inning with a double, and after Mussina got Carl Everett to fly out, Mike Lamb and Michael Young gave the Rangers a 2-1 lead with back-to-back RBI doubles.

"You think that sooner or later someone is going to hit the ball to somebody instead of hitting it into the gap," Mussina said. "It was interesting to stand out on the mound and watch every swing that they made contact with fall into the gap."

That was just the beginning, as the Rangers turned the basepaths into a carousel. Frank Catalanotto and Kevin Mench added a pair of two-out RBI doubles of their own, while Alex Rodriguez broke up the doubles parade, crushing his 36th home run of the year to give Texas a 6-1 lead.

"I was shaking my head a little bit," Mussina said. "They were hitting balls that were out of the zone -- A-Rod hit a ball that was almost shoe-high on the outside corner and he drove it out to right-center.

"I wasn't getting beat with stuff up in the strike zone, I know that," Mussina added. "They were getting on balls down in the zone, away and off-speed. It was just one of those days."

Rafael Palmeiro added another double, but was stranded on second base when the inning ended. In all, Mussina allowed six doubles in the second, tying Boston's Lefty Grove for the most doubles allowed in an inning by one pitcher. Grove did it on June 9, 1934.

"This happened so quickly, one right after the other, you almost have to shrug it off," Mussina said. "To give up six doubles in one inning is obviously unique -- it hasn't been done in 70 years. There are some circumstances that you have to just look at and say it was their day and not ours."

"We got hits off a pretty good pitcher tonight and to get to their bullpen early was huge," said Rangers manager Jerry Narron. "Our hits came on good pitches, but you could tell he didn't have his best stuff. When he is at his best, he's as good as anybody in baseball."

Mussina went back out for the third inning, but served up a one-out solo home run to Lamb to give Texas a 7-1 lead. He finished the inning, but it would be his last. He left after three innings, allowing seven runs on 11 hits. He did not walk a batter, striking out one.

"I'm not killing myself because I was throwing the ball down the middle all day," Mussina said. "If I had thrown it down the middle and they were just wailing on pitches, that would be one thing. They got some good pitches and had a good day at the plate."

The three-inning stint was his shortest of the season, marking the first time he has not completed five innings in a start.

The seven runs tied a season-high, as Mussina gave up seven against the Minnesota Twins in five innings on May 17 at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees bailed out Mussina that night, winning 13-12 on Jason Giambi's 14th-inning grand slam. Wednesday, there would be no such luck for Mussina or the Yankees.

"I expect him to do well every time he goes out there because of his track record and what he did for us last year winning big games," Torre said. "It was one of those games where we couldn't stop the bleeding. All of our relievers came in and gave up a number of runs."

Despite Mussina's inconsistency, Torre isn't concerned about sending him out there every fifth day. New York is 16-6 in his 22 starts, and he has shown flashes of his old self, including a duel against Pedro Martinez and the Boston Red Sox two weeks ago.

"I can't really be concerned," Torre said. "I write his name down and I feel we have an advantage. When that stops happening or when doubt starts to creep in, it will be a concern to me. Right now, I'm not there."

Mussina finished last season strong, winning six of his final seven decisions from August 17 through the end of the year. He also pitched well in the postseason, going 2-1 in four playoff starts. With two months remaining in the 2002 campaign, there is still plenty of time for Mussina to get back on track before the calendar turns to October.

"If I had an explanation for it, I would have stopped it. I don't know what it is," Mussina said. "It's the exact opposite of the way I pitched last year. Every year is different, and you have to challenge yourself with something that comes up. This has been a challenge for me all year. I'll keep grinding it out and hope it comes together."


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