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Mussina takes the mound in Game 1
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10/04/2004 5:13 PM ET
Mussina takes the mound in Game 1
Opposes Santana, Twins in ALDS
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Mike Mussina went 12-9 with a 4.59 ERA for the year. (Charles Krupa/AP)
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NEW YORK -- When Andy Pettitte signed with Houston and Roger Clemens retired (and then signed with Houston), the Yankees turned over the unofficial role of No. 1 starter to Mike Mussina.

Tuesday, Mussina will take the ball in Game 1 of the American League Division Series, but his ride to the first pitch of the postseason wasn't quite as smooth as he expected it would be.

Mussina battled early-season inconsistency and midseason arm troubles before finishing strong, going 12-9 with a 4.59 ERA for the year. It marked the first time in his four-year tenure with the Yankees that the right-hander didn't win at least 17 games.

"It was an interesting year and not one that I expected, but here I am the first week of October and we're still playing and I'm going to get to pitch in the postseason," Mussina said. "The road getting here wasn't the road that I assumed I was going to take, but the team took the right one."

Now, the team turns to Mussina to get it off to a good start against Johan Santana and the Minnesota Twins. Mussina has dominated the Twins throughout his career, going 20-3 with a sub-3.00 ERA, but he is winless against them in two starts this season after losing Game 1 of last year's ALDS to Minnesota.

Despite being matched up with Santana, the Cy Young frontrunner, Mussina said he doesn't feel any additional pressure. Mussina's last three starts have come against Santana and Pedro Martinez (twice), so he's used to taking the mound with the knowledge that his offense may not give him much support.

"We go out there every night trying to shut them down, and when they get one, then we try to hold them at one," he said. "This is the postseason, and everybody is going to be experienced and expecting to go out there and pitch well."

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Mussina went 0-4 in July and August, missing more than a month during that time with his strained right elbow. But he rebounded in September, going 3-1 with a 2.14 ERA in six starts, firmly entrenching himself as the team's best starter.

"He's been pitching well," said Derek Jeter. "When Moose has his control, he's very effective. He throws five or six pitches, so when he's in control, you have no idea what's coming. From facing him, that's the biggest key."

Although he is just 5-5 in the postseason, Mussina has been the victim of a lack of run support at times, posting a solid 3.06 ERA in 16 career playoff games. In six Division Series starts, Mussina is 3-1 with a 3.08 ERA, his only loss coming last year to the Twins.

Mussina's ALCS didn't go much better, as he went 0-2 against the Red Sox in his two starts. Of course, that was all erased after his clutch performance out of the bullpen in Game 7, as he tossed three scoreless innings, helping the Yankees make their historic comeback.

"They asked me to get a couple of outs, so I said, 'Sure.' I didn't know there was going to be people at first and third with nobody out, and down 4-0 to Pedro," Mussina said. "Just the circumstances and the way that game played out and the way that series played out was just unique. That was last year, and we've got to play now."

"When he came into that ballgame out of the bullpen and did what he did, he doesn't have to prove himself again as far as pitching under stress," said manager Joe Torre. "There was no more pressure he could have experienced than that night, for sure."

No Clemens, no Pettitte. Even David Wells is gone. That leaves Mussina, Jon Lieber, Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez and maybe Orlando Hernandez to carry the load, something that Mussina feels they are capable of doing.

"I know everybody has questions, but they have had questions all year and we've won 101 games, so I don't know what else we're supposed to do," Mussina said. "We'll just go out there and try to win 11 games now."

Mark Feinsand 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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