Prior to last night, Mike Mussina's last loss came on August 3 in Cleveland when, after pitching four scoreless innings, Mussina fell apart in the fifth, giving up six runs and getting pulled from the game.
Prior to last night, the Yankees' last loss came this past Sunday in Chicago when, after cruising through the first three innings, Randy Johnson fell apart in the fourth, giving up six runs, which would be all the White Sox would score and also all they would need.
Last night, Mike Mussina combined those two outings by cruising through the first four innings before falling apart in the fifth, giving up eight runs and getting pulled from the game. A ninth run charged to Mussina would score with reliever Felix Rodriguez on the mound. Those nine runs would be all the Blue Jays would score and also all they would need.
What I had hoped would be a dispiriting loss for the slumping Blue Jays turned out to be a dispiriting loss for the Yanks. Mussina's collapse was particularly upsetting as the game had all the makings of a thrilling pitchers' duel through the first four innings, with both Mussina and Toronto starter Dave Bush seemingly at the top of their game, the latter backed up by some spectaculardefense.
Adding insult to injury, after the Yankees failed to drive a run across in the fifth and sixth, Joe Torre put his subs in, taking Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Jorge Posada out in favor of Felix Escalona, Bubba Crosby and John Flaherty respectively. The logic, I suppose, was to give these crucial players a breather in anticipation of today's day game. But considering the success the Yankees had had against the Toronto bullpen the previous two nights (8 runs in 3 2/3 innings) and the fact that the Yankees are indeed the second best offense in baseball, I find it unforgivable for Torre not to have allowed his team a chance to come back at full strength.
As it turns out, the move immediately came back to bite the Yankee skipper as in the bottom of the seventh Robinson Cano and Tony Womack lead off with singles off Jason Frasor and were driven in by a Hideki Matsui double. Matsui was hitting in the two-hole yesterday, so had Torre left his starters in, he would have had two in and Sheffield and Rodriguez due up with a man in scoring position. Instead he had Bubba Crosby and Felix Escalona. To his credit, Crosby singled, but Escalona struck out, as did Jason Giambi, ending the inning.
In the bottom of the eighth, Tino Martinez lead off with a single but was promptly doubled up by John Flaherty.
Finally, against Vinnie Chulk in the bottom of the ninth, Jeter and Crosby singled to bring the clean-up spot to the plate with two outs. Again, it was Escalona, not Rodriguez who was due up. Torre went to the last man on his bench and pinch-hit Bernie Williams. Bernie worked the count full then crushed a ball into the upper deck in right for a three-run homer to close the gap to 9-5 only to have Giambi make the final out. Too little too late.
I'm certainly not blaming Joe Torre for last night's loss, but his overt lack of faith in his team made this an even more painful loss than it should have been.
Incidentally, watching Tony Womack's adventures in center last night (he played a warning track shot by Hinske in to a triple in the eighth) and his futility at the plate (his seventh-inning single notwithstanding), in contrast to Crosby (who went 2 for 2 and, playing right, caught a sinking fly in shallow center that should have been Womack's but clearly had Tony flumoxed) greatly intensified my belief that Womack must be released and that Crosby (with or without help from Columbus) must be given his share of the centerfield starts (idealy those against opposing righty starters with a fly ball pitcher on the mound--right now primarily Chacon and Leiter--for the Yanks).
Both Boston and Cleveland also lost last night (to the Royals and Devil Rays respectively), while the A's beat up the Tigers to pull back into a three-way tie with the Yanks and Tribe in the Wild Card race.
Today, the Yanks look to avoid a split, sending Shawn Chacon to the mound to face the Jay's best active pitcher, Mr. Gustavo Chacin. Chacon has posted a 1.69 ERA in his five starts as a Yankee and is comming off a fantastic eight shutout innings against the White Sox on Saturday. Chacin was a hard-luck loser in his last two starts and is 0-2 with a 5.73 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP in two starts against the Yankees this year, both in Toronto.