Mike Mussina didn't just pitch well last night, he turned in his best start of the season, holding the Orioles scoreless over seven innings while striking out six. After walking Brian Roberts to start the game, Mussina allowed just three singles, one of which didn't leave the infield, and didn't allow a man to reach second base until there were two outs in the seventh. Along the way, Mussina got nine of his outs on the ground, two of them on a double play he turned himself. Indeed, in addition to his great pitching, Moose put on a clinic in the field, making three assists (one a screaming liner at his face that he knocked down for an easy 1-3 putout) and two putouts. The one infield single he allowed came when he ranged far off the third base side of the mound to glove a grounder by Tejada and attempted something of a Jeter jump throw while falling toward the foul line. That came in the seventh inning in which the two other batters grounded back to the mound and the fourth struck out. Put simply, it was an outstanding night for Mussina, who had great movement on his fastball, which dove back over the plate after coming in on the lefties, solid velocity around 90 miles per hour, and a sharp 70-mile-per-hour curve. Moose will make one more start this season in the finale of the Yankees' series in Tampa Bay. It will likely take two great starts from Ian Kennedy and a complete collapse from Mussina his next time out for Moose's performance last night not to have earned him a spot in the postseason rotation.
While Moose was cruising, the Yankees were moleicesting Jon Leicester, dropping a six-spot on the Baltimore starter in the fourth inning with Doug Mientkiewicz delivering the big blow in the form of a three-run homer to the upper deck in left. The Yanks plated a leadoff walk by Posada in the sixth, then lept all over Cleveland castoff Fernando Cabrera in the seventh, scoring five more times against him and Rob Bell to put the final score at 12-0. Jose Veras and Ron Villone swept up, with a Alberto Gonzalez error leading to the only base runner, one quickly erased by a double play.
The Orioles seem to heal all the Yankees' wounds last night. Not only did Mussina have his best game of the year, but Hideki Matsui went 2 for 5 with a double and three RBIs, and even Melky Cabrera came up with a two-RBI single in the five-run seventh, which snapped his 0-for-16 skid. Melky also had a sac fly for three RBIs on the night. Elsewhere, Mientkiewicz drove in four, and both Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano went 3 for 4 with a double, while Shelley Duncan struck out in his first plate appearance since September 5 and Bronson Sardinha did the same in his second major league at-bat.
Oh, and the Red Sox and Tigers both lost, so the Yanks are 2.5 games back (two in the loss column) in the East (which is nice, but with just ten games left, likely meaningless), and have a 4.5-game lead (five in the loss column) in the Wild Card (which, with just ten games left, all but guarantees them a playoff spot), while the Indians will remain tied with the Angels for the second seed in the AL should the Angels hold on to their 2-0 lead against the Devil Rays.