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Tigers set ambush for Mussina
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07/06/2004 10:05 PM ET 
Tigers set ambush for Mussina
Tight pitches stir things up in the ninth

Mike Mussina fanned eight but ran into trouble in the fifth and sixth innings. (Kathy Willens/AP)
NEW YORK -- For four innings Tuesday night, Mike Mussina toyed with the Tigers like it was 2003 all over again. But in the fifth, the 2004 Bengals showed up, and Mussina didn't know what hit him.

Mussina knew who hit him, as Detroit, the American League's top-hitting team, slugged out a 9-1 victory over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

Despite the score, the game did not go quietly into the night. After Yankees reliever Tanyon Sturtze hit Ivan Rodriguez on the elbow with a pitch in the top of the ninth, Ugueth Urbina threw behind Gary Sheffield in the bottom of the inning.

At that point, plate umpire Larry Young warned both benches. There were no further incidents. But Wednesday afternoon brings another game.

This one sent Mussina home muttering to himself, regretting that his results did not reflect his stuff, which he considered exceptional despite the fact he pitched on short rest.

"Best stuff I've had since I got hurt," he said, referring to an episode with a tight groin 3 1/2 weeks ago. "Better than it's been for four, five starts.

"I just made some bad decisions, and every time I made a bad pitch, they got on it. You can't be wasting good stuff."

Bobby Higginson's two-run homer snapped a scoreless tie in the fifth, and the Tigers batted around for five more runs in the sixth.

"Up to that point, the one to Higginson was the only bad pitch he'd made all night," said manager Joe Torre.

"It really changed the whole game," catcher Jorge Posada said of a fastball that got too much of the plate. "I just wanted him to throw a little sinker down to get a ground ball."

If Mussina shook off that sign, a couple of hours later he was still shaking his head.

"My fault completely," Moose said. "I threw a pitch right where he could hit it."

The Tigers thus snapped their five-game losing skid by handing the Bombers their fourth loss in five games behind Jason Johnson's eight innings of one-run ball.

The Yankees had an answer for Detroit's first strike, after Alex Rodriguez led off the bottom of the fifth with a single to end Johnson's brief flirtation with a perfect game.

Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada followed with two more singles to deliver A-Rod and make it a 2-1 game. Then Johnson (6-7) regained his command while his lineup -- which took an AL-best .285 team average into the game -- kept after Mussina.

"He changed speeds. He's done that to us before," Torre said of Johnson, formerly of the Orioles rotation. "He managed to shut us down totally."

Working on three days' rest in order to squeeze in an additional start prior to the All-Star break, Mussina (9-6) featured a wicked splitter in striking out five in the first two innings.

"But when you strike out that many," Torre reasoned, "you're throwing probably more pitches than you want to."

By the sixth, Mussina couldn't break any pitches past the Tigers, whose six hits in the inning included All-Star Carlos Guillen's two-run single through a drawn-in infield and ex-Yankee Rondell White's two-run homer.

Mussina and Johnson began the game as rare mirror-images of each other, by the numbers. Mussina had allowed 55 earned runs in 101 1/3 innings for a 4.88 ERA, Johnson 54 in 99 2/3 for a 4.88 ERA; both had given up 13 homers and were making their 18th starts.

It was still hard to tell them apart through four. Mussina had given up only one hit, even that an infield dribbler to the right of the mound, and Johnson had given up none.

In the end, Mussina was charged with seven runs and nine hits in his seven innings, during which he struck out eight with one walk.

The two homers he gave up matched the Tigers' prior career total off him in 157 at-bats.

Johnson went eight, giving up the run and six hits, with no walks and four strikeouts.

Sturtze worked the last three innings for New York, allowing White's RBI single in the eighth and a run-scoring double to Young in the ninth.

He also awoke the Detroit bench with the fastball that clanked off the thin pad on Pudge's left elbow.

Immediately, the Tigers, most notably Higginson, pounced on the umpires to take action -- as they had the night before, when Esteban Yan low-bridging of Alex Rodriguez and earned an instant ejection.

"Not even close," Sturtze said when asked whether retribution was the pitch's intent. "I tried to throw a fastball in, and it ran away from me.

"I was just hoping he was all right. I didn't know where it got him."

Sturtze's catcher was in accord.

"We were trying to come in. The ball just ran into his elbow," Posada said. "There was no intention behind it, none at all. We were just trying to play the game."

Were the Tigers playing the same game when Urbina low-bridged Sheffield a few minutes later?

"That's baseball," said Pudge, who was all right and smiling in the clubhouse after the game. "If you hit one of our players, we're going to go after one of you, too."

"After they throw behind Sheffield, the point is across and we go on. I don't think it will carry over," Posada concluded.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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