Yanks take two to sweep Rangers
Jeter extends streak as New York wins in Mussina's return
ARLINGTON -- The Yankees lost their top pitching prospect, their strength coach, one day to down-pouring rain yet managed to win both games in a doubleheader Thursday and complete a three-game sweep that spanned four days.
After topping Texas, 4-3, in the afternoon and 5-2 in the nightcap at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, maybe things are really starting to look up for the Yankees. The turnaround could not come at a better time.
"This was great for us. It really was," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "I know this ballclub was struggling when we got here. But these two games were really tough. Everybody showed up."
Twenty-five percent of the Yankees 12 wins this year have come in May (and 67 percent of Mariano Rivera's saves after the venerable closer finished both victories Thursday). And aside from the devastating loss of rookie pitcher Phil Hughes to a hamstring injury Tuesday, nobody else was hurt in a freaky mishap this week. What did happen was an effective performance by Mike Mussina in Thursday's finale.
Fresh off the disabled list from a hamstring injury and in his first start since April 11, Mussina allowed one run on four hits in five innings. He threw only 64 pitches, but 49 of them were strikes. Every one of them mattered for a Yankees club looking to rebound from a losing record in April and the bottom half of the American League East.
Mussina was on a 75-pitch limit but tired before reaching the mark.
"I would say that was successful. I was hoping five innings is what I would be able to do," Mussina said. "I had better command than I expected. I might have had a little better velocity than I expected the first day back. I was able to make pitches."
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter did his part, extending his hitting streak to 20 games with a single in the top of the sixth inning. His single to right field as part of a two-run seventh extended the Yankees lead to 4-1. Also in the seventh, Hideki Matsui hit a double and eventually scored from third on a wild pitch from Rangers reliever Frank Francisco for the club's third run of the game.
Yankees first baseman Doug Mientkeiwicz hit a two-run home run in the second inning for a lead his team would never surrender.
"We needed that one bad," he said. "It's nice after what we went through before we got here to come here and win all three against a team that can swing the bats with the best of them."
In the first game of the doubleheader, a hitless Jeter led off an eighth inning tied at 3 with a single. He scored on a double by Matsui to help the Yankees edge the Rangers. Jeter has now hit safely in 59 or his last 61 games dating back to last season.
"Last year, [Jeter] was probably the most consistent of the 11 years we have been together here," Torre said. "He has pretty much picked up where he left off. He's a grinder-type of guy. Whatever the score in the game, it never takes away from what he needs to do at-bat to at-bat. Again, he uses the whole field."
And apparently a little hocus-pocus.
In the eventful eighth, Jeter was caught between first and second on a botched hit-and-run with Bobby Abreu at the plate, but he slid headfirst back into the first-base bag safely. A postgame ruling declared Mark Teixeira was given an error and Jeter was actually charged with a caught stealing on the play.
If Teixeira would have caught the ball, Jeter would have been tagged out easily.
"I saw the ball right away laying there," Torre said. "The umpire was going to call him out, but [Teixiera] never had the ball. Derek knew he was out at second base. We lucked out."
As luck would have it, Jeter trotted home on Matsui's double to the gap in right-center field for the game-winner, and Jason Giambi, who was walked intentionally before Matsui, was thrown out at the plate on the play. Giambi developed leg cramps while running in between second and third base. In the second game of the doubleheader, Giambi was removed from the game in the sixth inning, also because of leg cramps.
"I've been doing as much as I can," Giambi said. "The hardest thing when you are not playing first, you can't really recreate being out in the field. Going around second, it started to cramp up. Luckily, I have played enough on them that I stopped."
Giambi's solo home run in the fourth, his fifth homer of the season, snapped the 1-all tie and gave the Yankees the lead. But it was his defensive play -- including turning the sometimes troublesome 3-6-3 double play -- that drew the most praise after the game. Giambi is supposed to hit home runs. But defense?
He credits recent tips from former Yankees first baseman Tino Martinez and bench coach Don Mattingly for his improved defense.
"Too bad I did not have it years and years ago," Giambi said.
As for Game 1 starter Andy Pettitte, he gave up two runs and five hits in six efficient innings. He walked three batters and struck out five in an 107-pitch outing. He felt something was amiss early but afterward refused to use the fact that three of his starts have been impacted by the weather as an excuse.
"I was out of sync again, fighting myself. It's frustrating," he said. "I felt so good in my previous three starts and I've been really battling through with my command and everything. We got a win, and that makes it a lot better."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.