Mike Mussina pitched well enough to earn his 16th win of the season last night, leaving the game after seven strong innings and 104 pitches with a 5-3 lead. The Yankees got to Twins starter Nick Blackburn early when Johnny Damon homered on the second pitch of the game, and though the lead changed hands four times in the early innings, the Yanks began to pull away as Mussina settled down to end his night with three scoreless frames.
An insurance run in the top of the eighth made it 6-3 Yanks, but three batters into the bottom of the inning, Damaso Marte had put runners on the corners, forcing Joe Girardi to go straight to his closer in a game the Yankees really needed to win. Delmon Young fouled off Mariano Rivera's first two pitches, but when the third drifted over the plate, Young smacked it off the opposite-field foul pole for a game-tying home run.
Rivera got the next two outs, then spent the top of the ninth steaming in the dugout, cursing to himself, throwing his gum, staring at the ceiling, and constantly shifting in his seat, unable to keep his blood from boiling.
After the Yankees failed to do anything with a one-out Derek Jeter single in the top of the ninth, Rivera returned to the mound and pitched around a bad call on a two-out infield single by Nick Punto to push the game into extra innings.
Joe Nathan set the Yanks down in order in the top tenth, but Jose Veras returned serve in the bottom of the inning, at which point the discrepancy between Mike Mussina's and Nick Blackburn's performances earlier in the game came back into play. Entering the 11th inning, Joe Girardi had used just three relievers--Marte, Rivera, and Veras, the last of whom came back out and pitched another 1-2-3 inning in the 11th--while Ron Gardenhire had just two left, Matt Guerrier and Brian Bass. Guerrier pitched around a two-out infield single by Johnny Damon in the 11th, but wasn't so fortunate in the 12th.
Alex Rodriguez was 0 for 5 entering the twelfth inning. His previous at-bat came with two outs in the top of the ninth. Derek Jeter had singled earlier in the inning, but the Captain fouled a ball of his left instep earlier in the game and his mobility was limited. After Bobby Abreu made the second out, Girardi sent Melky Cabrera in to run for Jeter so that the Yankees would be able to take the lead on a double. Instead, Rodriguez swung at the first pitch he saw and hit into an inning-ending fielder's choice.
Facing Guerrier in the 12th, Rodriguez took the first pitch for a ball, then crushed the next one over the 408 sign in dead center to give the Yankees their fourth and final lead of the game. Ivan Rodriguez followed with a double, and Xavier Nady, who drove in four of the Yankees' nine runs on the night, topped things off with another homer into the vampire seats off Guerrier.
With Rivera having blown his first save of the year, Edwar Ramirez earned his first save of the season with a 1-2-3 bottom of the twelfth to nail down the much-needed 9-5 Yankee win.
Alex Rodriguez got the key hit, but Nady, Mussina, and the combination of Veras and Ramirez, who pitched three perfect innings, deserve at least as much credit. Now the Yankees have a chance to pull out a series win against Kevin Slowey this afternoon to salvage a 4-6 record on the road trip.