Mussina W16-7 | 9IP | 3H | 0ER | 1BB | 9K | 4.68ERA
BOSTON -- The Yankees came to Fenway Park with a chance to put their stamp on the American League East. Eighteen shutout innings later, New York left Boston with a nine-game lead over the Red Sox. More important, they got a performance from Mike Mussina that they have been waiting for all season.
Mussina tossed a three-hit gem against the Red Sox in a 7-0 victory, baffling Boston from the first pitch. Mussina matched Pedro Martinez pitch-for-pitch over the first six innings before New York finally wore down Boston's ace.
Mussina made a 1-0 first-inning lead stand up into the seventh, when New York exploded for four runs to put the game away.
"I certainly think it's the best game I've pitched all year," said Mussina, who improved to 16-7. "When you're going up against someone like Pedro, you have to know that one or two runs is all that we're going to get. That's the way the game was going for a while -- we got some breaks, he walked some people and his pitch count got a little high and we got him out of there."
Mussina has had a roller-coaster season, riding highs and lows from start to start. After his Aug. 17 outing at Seattle, it appeared the right-hander was ready to break out of his slump, but a six-inning, five-run game against Texas last Friday tempered those thoughts.
"Maybe it took Fenway Park and Pedro Martinez to have him show us the kind of pitcher we know he is," said Yankees manager Joe Torre. "The type of start it was is pretty damned impressive. All it takes is one start, especially one like this in a game like this, where if there was any kind of doubt creeping in his mind, he probably solved a lot of it tonight."
"If you go long enough without having success, you wonder if you're ever going to have success again," Mussina said. "Guys get in hitting slumps and wonder if they'll ever go 3-for-4 again. Pitchers are the same way -- sometimes you wonder if you're ever going to get anybody out again."
Mussina had no trouble getting people out Wednesday. He sat down the first six Boston batters in order, and after a small hiccup in the third, when he allowed a single and a walk, he settled in to deliver his signature performance of the season.
From the fourth inning on, Mussina allowed just two singles, one of which was erased by a double play in the fifth. Of his nine innings pitched, he faced the minimum three batters in seven of them.
"He stepped it up," said catcher Jorge Posada. "He knew he was facing Pedro, he knew we needed to score some runs and one run was the boost that he needed. It was good to see Moose back."
"It's naive to say that you don't know that Pedro is pitching for the other club," Mussina said. "Sure, I don't have to face him as a hitter, but you do understand that the game has a pretty good chance of being low-scoring. If you don't hold the other team down and pitch well, he's going to win."
For Mussina, it was his first complete game of the season, and the 19th shutout of his career. He improved to 3-0 at Fenway in 2002, giving the Yankees a nine-game lead for the first time this season.
"I've thrown the ball well here the last couple of years. For some reason, it's a comfortable place for me to pitch," Mussina said. "It's nice to have one of these in Boston in a big series. To go from seven back to five or up to nine is a big deal."
Mussina, who lowered his ERA from 4.94 to 4.68, hopes that a start like Wednesday's can be the springboard to launch him into September. Of course, the Red Sox would tell you that Mussina is doing just fine, having the same All-Star type of season that they are accustomed to seeing.
"Every time I am on the field watching him pitch, he pitches a game similar to the one he just pitched out there tonight," said Boston skipper Grady Little. "I haven't eye-witnessed any of those other games where I have heard about him struggling, so that is all hearsay. I am still going to believe what I see."
"I can't see how he gets hit outside of Boston," said Johnny Damon. "He pitches lights-out against us. When a guy can throw 10 different pitches and different arm angles and locate like he does, he's going to be very tough."
New York swept the two-game miniseries with back-to-back shutouts, the first time the Yankees have blanked the Sox twice in a row at Fenway since Sept. 11 and 12, 1943, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. David Wells did the damage on Tuesday, and Mussina finished the job on Wednesday, putting the Yankees in prime position as the calendar turns to September.
"You come here and shut people out, that's really a bonus," Torre said. "We're confident playing here -- we have a better record on the road than we do at home -- but to come in here and have these two games pitched back-to-back, I couldn't be more proud."
"Those guys were dominating, awesome," said Bernie Williams, who delivered the three-run home run in the seventh that put the game away for New York. "I had the best seat out there in center field, watching them deal. Yesterday with Boomer and today with Moose, they were just painting."
Despite his success against the Sox, Mussina knows that his latest gem will carry him only as far as his next start. Coincidentally, that start is scheduled for Monday at Yankee Stadium against -- you guessed it -- the Red Sox.
"It's a relief to know I can still pitch, because sometimes I didn't think I could. It got frustrating going six and giving up five every night. That's not a lot of fun," Mussina said. "It's one game. I'll wake up tomorrow and start preparing for my next one. That's the nature of this job -- you can enjoy it as long as the flight lasts and until SportsCenter is over, then you have to get ready for the next one."
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