We all knew the Yankees weren't going to sweep their current four-game series against the Red Sox to pull into a second-place tie in the AL East, but the possibility was there. Now, having dropped the first two games, the Yankees have to sweep the final two in order to avoid losing ground to Boston as a result of this series.
Looking to snap the Yanks out of their malaise in today's nationally-televised afternoon tilt will be Mike Mussina. The bad news is that two of Mussina's three worst starts this season came against the Red Sox in April. Here's Moose's line from those two starts against Boston: 8 2/3 IP, 15 H, 9 R, 3 HR, 0 BB, 2 K, 9.35 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 0-2. Manny Ramirez did the bulk of the damage against Mussina in those games, going 4-for-5 with a double and three home runs, driving in six of the nine runs Mussina allowed and scoring a seventh. It would thus seem a natural to have Mussina pitch around Ramirez today, but the man hitting behind Ramirez is Mike Lowell, who has a .579/.600/1.158 career line against Mussina. Ironically, Lowell was on the DL when Mussina faced the Red Sox in April, but in 2007, Lowell went 4-for-5 with a walk, a double, and two home runs against Mussina, and in 2006, he went 5-for-10 with a double and a homer against Moose.
So there will be no pitching around Manny today. Instead the Mussina will have to focus on keeping runners off base ahead of Ramirez and Lowell. Third-place hitter J.D. Drew is just 1 for 11 with no walks in his career against Mussina, but Boston's top-two hitters, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia, have a combined .555 OBP against Mussina (Moose has never walked either one, but he's plunked Ellsbury twice and the two are a combined 8-for-16 against him).
Opposing Mussina will be 23-year-old rookie Justin Masterson. Masterson, who is just the fourth major leaguer to have been born in Kingston, Jamaica (Devon White and ex-Yankee Chili Davis are two of the other three) is a big dude (6-foot-6, 250 lbs.). He's also a sinkerballer in search of an effective second pitch. Masterson made two strong spot starts for the Red Sox in the season's first two months, but since being installed in the rotation at the beginning of June in place of the then-injured Daisuke Matsuzaka, has been merely average, posting a 4.54 ERA, walking 4.79 men per nine innings, and allowing seven home runs in six starts. I keep waiting for the Red Sox to swap him back out for Clay Buchholz, who is younger, better, and allowed just two runs in six June starts for triple-A Pawtucket (4-1, 0.88 ERA).
With Johnny Damon out due to the shoulder contusion he suffered in yesterday's game, Brett Gardner will lead off and play left field today. Wilson Betemit gets the start at first base with Jason Giambi at DH. That means Jorge Posada rides pine as Mike Mussina pitches to his personal catcher in Jose Molina.
Let me get this straight: Molina caught yesterday's game (with Posada DHing). Tomorrow's game is a night game. Monday is an off-day. Yet, Girardi can't find a way to get Posada into the lineup against the Red Sox today with Johnny Damon hurt and his team desperate to pull out a series split? I think I'd like to have my own team meeting with the Yankee skipper. I realize the Yankees are babying Posada's throwing shoulder out of necessity, but Girardi needs to prioritize. Molina has hit .191/.234/.243 since injuring his hamstring against the Red Sox in mid-April. He's killing this team. Posada has hit .263/.380/.421 since coming off the DL at the beginning of June. The Yankees need that OBP in the lineup. Meanwhile, in the last month, Chad Moeller has entered just one game before the eighth inning and had just five plate appearances (in which he's doubled and been hit by a pitch). Even if Posada's shoulder is so tender that he really can't catch today, it's long since time to give Moeller a chance to contribute again, Mussina's preference be damned.
Update: Per Pete Abe, Posada's "a little under the weather." That excuses that, but not the continued preference of Molina over Moeller.