Mussina L16-10 | 8IP | 3H | 1ER | 4BB | 5K | 4.48ERA
NEW YORK -- Friday's outing was hardly the best the Yankees have seen out of Mike Mussina this season, but it certainly wasn't the worst performance by the right-hander this season either.
Mussina kept the Yankees in the ballgame against the White Sox, and then the bullpen exploded, allowing 10 runs in the final two innings, giving Chicago a 13-2 win.
A lack of control was the key for Mussina, who walked four batters in a game for just the third time this season. The first batter of the contest was an indicator that he didn't have his best stuff, as Mussina got ahead of D'Angelo Jimenez before throwing four straight balls to walk the leadoff hitter.
"It wasn't one of his best, obviously," said manager Joe Torre. "When he gets two strikes on the first hitter and then walks him, that wasn't a good sign. He threw a lot of pitches early, which was a lot of work. I was a little surprised by this."
That leadoff walk led to Chicago's first run, but the Yankees gave their starter a lead in the third, taking advantage of two White Sox errors to score two runs.
But the Yankees returned the favor in the very next inning, as two errors on one play led to a pair of unearned runs and a 3-2 Chicago lead.
After Frank Thomas doubled to lead off the inning, Mussina walked Magglio Ordonez and hit Paul Konerko with a pitch, loading the bases with no outs.
Carlos Lee popped up to Soriano for the first out, and Aaron Rowand hit a ground ball to Soriano, who tried to force out Thomas at home. The throw hit Thomas, bouncing away from catcher Jorge Posada. Mussina retrieved the ball and tried to throw out Ordonez, who was heading home, but his throw was wild as well, allowing Chicago to take a lead.
"It was a strange play," Mussina said. "I went to cover first and all of a sudden the ball is coming right at me. It was an odd play."
Mussina went three more innings, allowing just a sixth-inning walk. That runner was erased when left fielder Juan Rivera gunned down Ordonez at second when he tried to advance on a flyout.
"He knows how to stop the bleeding," said Torre of Mussina. "The last few innings, he kept us in the game, which is all you can ask of your starter. The ability to keep you in a game, he has that. He did that tonight, leaving down by one run. He got the loss, but it wasn't necessarily a losing effort."
Mussina left the game after seven innings, having allowed three runs (one earned) on just three hits. He walked four and struck out five, but dropped his third consecutive decision, falling to 16-10.
"Every time I go out there, I try to get deep in the game and give us a chance to win. That's what I did," Mussina said. "Sometimes it's smooth, and other times it's not so smooth. Today was one of those days when it was rough getting there, but I was in the seventh with a low-scoring, close game."
"He was up in the zone, battling with his control," Posada said. "He threw a lot of pitches and was behind a lot, but he battled his butt off and gave us a chance to win. It just didn't happen."
If Torre and the Yankees can take anything positive out of Mussina's performance, it is that he didn't collapse when he went out to the mound without his best stuff. In three consecutive starts in late-July and early-August, Mussina allowed double-digit hit totals in each outing, getting hit harder than he ever has in his career.
In his last outing, a 2-1 loss to Detroit on Sept. 7, Mussina allowed two runs in eight innings, giving up just five hits while walking none. Two starts before, Mussina shut out the Red Sox in Boston on a three-hitter.
"I had better stuff last game than I did in Boston when I shut them out, and I hate wasting days like that," Mussina said. "It's frustrating to waste a day when you have the best stuff you can have. Today certainly wasn't one of those days.
"I feel better leaving a game like this," he added. "It's frustrating not being able to throw strikes, but when you look back, and you leave the game down 3-2 having only given up three hits -- maybe that's because I couldn't throw it over the plate -- sometimes effectively wild is as good as being pinpoint accurate."
Mussina has lost his last three decisions, but he thinks that he's over that hump of late summer. With just three starts remaining in the season, he will have a few more opportunities to tighten up his game before the postseason begins.
"Something is coming together," Mussina said. "It's been easier to deliver the ball to places I'm trying to. Tonight it wasn't so easy, but I wasn't missing in the middle of the plate. Balls weren't flying up the gap like they were before, when I was missing in hittable places. That's acceptable to miss like that."
When he was struggling through July and August, some were questioning whether or not Mussina would find his way into the playoff rotation. Torre all but shut down that talk on Friday night, saying he had no reservation about sending the right-hander out for an October start.
"I felt good with his last three outings," Torre said. "With his ability that he brings to the table all of the time and his ability to pitch big games, I'm not going to hesitate to write his name down or have any questions."
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