Mike Mussina and Javy Vazquez were both sharp last night. The Yanks squeezed out a run early with a soft two-out rally in the second that was started by two-out walks to Robinson Cano and Jason Giambi and extended by infield singles by Morgan Ensberg, who lined a shot off Vazquez's chest, and Melky Cabrera. Melky's hit plated the run before Vazquez struck out Johnny Damon to leave the bases loaded. There weren't any terribly hard-hit balls in the game until the fifth, when a two-out double by Jorge Posada plated Damon and Hideki Matsui, both of whom had singled, to make it 3-0 Yanks.
Entering the bottom of the fifth, Mussina had allowed just two singles and a walk, and only one of those two singles left the infield. With one out in that inning, Joe Crede blasted a solo homer to left, but the Yanks broke the game open with three runs in the top of the sixth to chase Vazquez, and Mussina came back with a 1-2-3 sixth of his own.
Moose allowed another solo homer (this to Carlos Quentin) with two outs in the seventh. With his starter up to 99 pitches and Crede due up again, Joe Girardi popped out of the dugout. When he got to the mound, he turned to Posada and asked, "What's he got?" Posada meant to say "there's nothing wrong with him," but it came out "he's got nothing." With that, Girardi began to lift his arm to call for a reliever, but Posada, realizing his mistake, quickly stopped his manager and explained what he meant to say. Girardi appeared puzzled, but accepted Posada's explanation and returned to the dugout without making a change. Mussina then got Crede out on two pitches to end the inning and his evening. (The incident reminded me of this game.)
Mussina was flat-out excellent in his seven innings and was working quickly and efficiently and in an easy rhythm with Posada (who had a great night overall, going 4 for 5 with three doubles). Said Moose after the game:
I didn't throw hardly any curveballs. Lotta sinkers, lotta cutters, good changeup. I think I had real good movement today. Seems like I jammed a lot of guys. They were diving out over the plate, and the ball ran back in on them a little bit, so I think the movement was my biggest asset today. I usually don't go out there planning not to throw curveballs. The curveball's a pretty big part of my game. Just today, right from the beginning, it seemed like I could throw two-seamers and get some run out of it, get some sink out of it, and I got a ton of groundballs, so I just kept on throwing them. [Jorge and I] were just trying to figure out what worked and we found something pretty early, so we just kept doing it. It wasn't really rocket science, we just kept doing what was working.
Those early grounders became fly balls in the latter innings (thus the two homers), but by then the game was in hand. As for that good changeup, the YES gun clocked a few of Mussina's pitches at 63 miles per hour. Now pitching, Bugs Bunny . . .
Girardi did bring in LaTroy Hawkins to start the eighth, but after a walk and a single, he turned to Billy Traber to face Jim Thome with one out and a four-run lead. For the second night in a row, Traber failed to retire Thome (he walked him in a completely unnecessary matchup on Tuesday night), giving up an RBI single that made the score 6-3. With Paul Konerko due up as the tying run and Joba Chamberlain having worked an inning and two-thirds the night before, Girardi went straight to Mariano Rivera for a five-out save.
Said Joe after the game, "The game was on the line. That was when we had to shut the door and close the game. . . . that was when we needed him."
Damn straight, skip. Girardi did the same thing with Chamberlain in the seventh inning on Tuesday night when the Sox, trailing by three, loaded the bases with one out. I applaud his willingness to use his big bullpen guns as stoppers (though I was less convinced of the need to leave Chamberlain in to pitch the eighth on Tuesday with the lead expanded to 9-4). Girardi has called on Rivera in the eighth twice this year and used Chamberlain in the seventh three times and has won all five of those games. The extra outs have thus far totaled up to just three extra innings combined for the two pitchers, which would pace out to about 22 innings over the course of the season.
Oh, and since I'm crunching numbers, if you take Manny Ramirez's hits and RBIs out of Mike Mussina's season totals, his ERA drops to 3.04 with a 1.06 WHIP.