Mussina W17-11 | 7IP | 5H | 1ER | 1BB | 4K | 3.20ERA
NEW YORK -- Paul O'Neill's status for the postseason has been one of the many questions surrounding the Yankees as they prepare for the playoffs. After watching O'Neill's return to the lineup on Wednesday, there may not be much of a question anymore.
O'Neill went 2-for-4 in his first game since fracturing his left foot on Sept. 7, crushing his 21st home run of the season in the sixth inning, a shot that would prove to be the game-winner in New York's 2-1 victory over the Chicago White Sox to complete the three-game sweep.
"Any time you have a good game in Yankee Stadium, it's fun. I hadn't been out there in a long time, so it was a lot of fun for me," O'Neill said. "I'm very happy with the way I swung the bat tonight, so tomorrow I'll go back out there and continue to try to have good at-bats. Consistency is the most important thing for me, and that takes time."
O'Neill's home run was enough to support Mike Mussina, who threw seven solid innings and notched his 17th win of the season. In his inaugural season with the Yankees, he has a 17-11 record and a 3.20 ERA, and he will make his first appearance in the postseason since 1997, when he had a dominating playoff run in four starts with the Orioles.
"To this point, I can't complain about much," said Mussina of his debut campaign in pinstripes. "It's fun to be on a team that every game is meaningful, and after a couple of years of getting to September and starting to look when the season would be over, it's a welcomed adjustment to having every game mean something. We've got a few more to play, and some that are very important."
Mussina allowed a solo home run to Jose Canseco in the second inning, but managed to keep the White Sox off the scoreboard for the rest of the night. Chicago scattered five hits on the night, and only in the sixth inning did the Sox get runners past first base.
"This is Mike Mussina," said Yankees Manager Joe Torre. "We haven't scored him a whole lot of runs for most of the year, but he's certainly kept us in games. He's had a couple of stray ballgames, but the way he's pitched lately has been terrific for us."
White Sox starter Jon Garland shut the Yankees down through the first five innings, holding New York to just two singles and a walk. The Yankees finally got to him in the sixth, when Derek Jeter singled and O'Neill gave his team a 2-1 lead with one swing, ripping Garland's 1-0 offering into the seats in left field.
"Hitting the ball hard, that's a fun part of the game that I haven't felt in a long time," said O'Neill. "I didn't have to run much tonight, which was great. I had four good at-bats and didn't have to really test it. There will be a day this weekend that I'll have to go, and we'll see what happens."
That would be all that New York would be able to do against Chicago's pitching. Garland went 5 1/3 innings, surrendering two runs on five hits and one walk, striking out four to fall to 6-7.
"At times, we've had trouble with guys that we haven't seen much before," said Scott Brosius, who went 0-for-3. "You get that this time of year, guys that you're unfamiliar with, so you go up without much of a game plan, not knowing what to expect. He threw a lot of strikes, had good movement on his fastball and held us down."
Torre pulled Mussina after seven innings and 101 pitches, as Mussina will make his final regular-season start on Sunday. Mussina will throw four or five innings, then turn the ball over to Orlando Hernandez to give both pitchers some final work before the playoffs.
Mike Stanton threw a scoreless eighth, giving way to Mariano Rivera, who notched his 49th save of the season, extending his own club record.
The Yankees open their final series of the regular season on Thursday, as Adrian "El Duquecito" Hernandez takes the mound against Nick Bierbrodt in the first of four games against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field.
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