Okay, so that wasn't exactly a "slugfest." I was right about the Yankees having to rely on their bullpen, but for the wrong reasons. Ramon Oritiz hurled a gem at the Bombers, limiting them to one run on three hits and a walk over eight innings. That one run came in the fourth when Johnny Damon led off with a single, was pushed to second when Derek Jeter worked the only walk Ortiz issued all night, moved to third on a fly to right by Bobby Abreu, and was plated by an Alex Rodriguez sac fly.
Mike Mussina looked better than he had in his first outing, but pulled up lame in the third inning with what proved to be a balky left hamstring and removed himself from the game (more on Moose's injury below). Mussina allowed a pair of singles before coming out of the game with a 2-1 count on Luis Castillo. Pressed into emergency duty, Sean Henn got Castillo to pop out on his first pitch, then escaped the inning thanks to a fabulous play by Derek Jeter. With Luis Rodriguez running from second on the pitch, Nick Punto hit a flair to shallow left. Jeter made a great over-the-shoulder, wide-receiver-style catch, then, in one continuous motion, spun and fired a strike to Robinson Cano at second to double up Rodriguez.
Henn turned in two more scoreless frames, but gave up a ringing double to Nick Punto to lead off the sixth. After Joe Mauer bunted Punto to third, Joe Torre went to Scott Proctor to face the right-handed Michael Cuddyer only to have Proctor give up a game-tying single on his second pitch. Proctor did manage to retire Justin Morneau and Torii Hunter to strand Cuddyer, and Luis Vizcaino contributed a perfect seventh inning with the help of a fantastic diving stop by Doug Mientkiewicz at first, but what was shaping up as a white-knuckle ballgame fell apart when Kyle Farnsworth took the mound in the eighth.
Farnsworth had nothing, walking Luis Castillo on four pitches to start the eighth. On Farnsworth's fifth toss, a called strike to Nick Punto, Castillo stole second. Punto bunted Farnsworth's next pitch foul and waved over top of a slider in the dirt for the first out, but Joe Mauer singled Castillo home three pitches later, taking second on Melky Cabrera's throw home. Farnsworth's first pitch to Michael Cuddyer was several feet away from Jorge Posada's target, shooting between Cuddyer and Posada's glove straight to the backstop to move Mauer to third. Cuddyer then singled Mauer home to run the score to 3-1. Justin Morneau cracked Farnsworth's next pitch to deep right for a double, driving Cuddyer home with the fourth run, and Torii Hunter repeated the feat, knocking an 1-0 Farnsworth offering off the baggy for another RBI double. It was only then that Joe Torre relieved Farnsworth of his duties, bringing in Mike Myers to get the final two outs.
Down a seemingly insurmountable four runs against the man who, all due respect to Mariano Rivera, is likely the best closer in baseball, the Yankees did manage to mount a rally against Joe Nathan. Derek Jeter lead off the ninth with a single and, after Bobby Abreu hit a screaming liner at Castillo for the first out, Alex Rodriguez hit a booming ground rule double into the gap in left to put runners on second and third. That brought Jason Giambi to the plate with first base open and a chance to bring the tying run to the plate in the person of Jorge Posada, but Giambi hacked at Nathan's first pitch, popping out to third. No longer in a position to tie the game, Posada took four pitches to run the count to 2-2, only to pop out to short to give the Twins a 5-1 win.
Consider this game a bit of stat correction for the Yankees' unusually low bullpen ERA and unusually high number of runs scored per game. Heck, even Mussina's two scoreless innings helped shed a few tenths of a run off the starters' ERA. If there's one lesson baseball teaches us, it's that everything comes back to the center in time.
As for Mussina, he said that he felt his hamstring grab during the first batter of the third inning and, when it grabbed at him again later that inning, he decided to get out of there before he wound up with a long-term injury. On his last pitch of the game, you could see Mussina's front leg stiffen up. Rather than ending up in his usual fielder's stance, Moose hopped off to the third base side of the mound, at which point he shook his head in disappointment and gestured for Joe Torre and Gene Monhahan to come out and get him. Said Mussina after the game, "It was more than a cramp, but it's not bad. I don't limp, and I can still touch my toes." The Yankees are hoping they won't have to place Mussina on the disabled list, but it looks like Darrell Rasner will take Mussina's next turn on Tuesday against the Indians at the Stadium. The Yanks won't need a fifth starter until Sunday April 22 in Boston, so look for Mussina to make his return to the rotation during that weekend series at Fenway if he's able to avoid the DL.
As for the other two pitchers the Yankees do have on the disabled list, both Jeff Karstens and Chien-Ming Wang threw bullpens down in Tampa earlier this week. Karstens is scheduled to throw three innings in a rehab game on Saturday. If that start goes well, he could be available to bump Rasner or fill in for Mussina at the end of next week. Wang, meanwhile, will need two rehab starts before being activated. Since the date of his first start has yet to be announced, it seems Wang will not be able to return any earlier than the team's final homestand of the month, one turn through the rotation later than Karstens assuming both stay on pace.