The Yankees cruised to an easy 6-1 win last night to split their four-game series against the Rays and leave town with a winning 4-3 record. Mike Mussina was sharp, allowing just three baserunners, two hits, and a lone run in six efficient innings of work. He had his best curveball working and was able to throw it at a variety of speeds between 70 and 80 miles per hour while correspondingly varying the severity of the break from a slow 12-to-6 yakker to a quicker pitch that broke in the zone. He also had a good changeup. Moose only recorded three strikeouts on the night, but got 11 of his other 15 outs on the ground, which was largely the product of having his best curve. Fittingly, the one run Mussina gave up came on a hanging curve to Jonny Gomes. Gomes put a lumberjack swing on the pitch, his bat and body tilted at 45 degree angles to the ground, and drove it into the seats in left field.
That was the only run the Rays would get all night as Brian Bruney and Kyle Farnsworth pitched perfect seventh and eighth innings, respectively, combining to throw 19 of 24 pitches for strikes. LaTroy Hawkins came on in the ninth and struggled with his control, his confidence, and a contingent of jackass fans who began chanting "Paul O'Neill" after Hawk's first pitch of the inning was a ball, but despite throwing just half of his 22 pitches for strikes, Hawkins managed to strand his two baserunners by striking out Gomes to end the game.
The Yankee offense, meanwhile, had it's most productive game of the year thus far with season-highs in runs (6) and hits (11). Bobby Abreu got things started in the first with a two-run homer to the right-field corner, the third Yankee home run of the homestand to that spot, none of which likely traveled more than 320 feet. After making Mussina sweat out his six innings, the Yanks then added on in the bottom of the sixth when Abreu, who had singled in his second at-bat, tripled off the wall in right center, Alex Rodriguez singled him home, and Hideki Matsui doubled Rodriguez home to make it 4-1 Yanks. Mid-game replacement Morgan Ensberg picked up his first Yankee hit with one out in the seventh bringing Abreu to the plate with a chance for the cycle. Abreu, true to form, drew a six-pitch walk. After Alex Rodriguez was called out on strikes at the end of a seven-pitch at-bat of his own, Matsui singled home Ensberg and Robinson Cano, who was hitless in the game to that point, singled Abreu home to set the final score.
That five run-lead allowed Joe Girardi to bring in Farnsworth and Hawkins without being second guessed, though I was still troubled that for the second game in a row Girardi did not appear to consider using Billy Traber against the all-lefty top of the Rays' order. That aside, while it was rough watching Hawkins in the ninth, the scoreless frame and game-ending K should serve him well, just as Farnsworth's easy eighth should him. Good on Girardi for getting those guys in there for some confidence-boosting low-leverage work.
The one wrinkle on the night was that Derek Jeter left the game after two innings with what an MRI revealed to be a strained left quadriceps. Jeter hit into a fielder's choice in the first and scored on Abreu's homer, but you could see as he ran to first that his legs weren't right, and he was stretching out the quad while standing on the bag.
Sez Jeter, "I felt something so I didn't want to be stupid. . . . You can't hide not running. If you can't do that, you can't [play]. I tried, but I felt something, so I thought it would be best to come out." When asked how long Jeter was expected to be on the shelf, Joe Girardi said, "it's gonna be a little bit," but said that the team did not expect him to hit the DL. Jeter will not play in this afternoon's opener in Kansas City. As he was last night, Wilson Betemit will be the shortstop while Jeter's out.