Yanks' bullpen secures Mussina's win
First-inning support holds up as Torre moves into ninth place
NEW YORK -- Sure, Mike Mussina hasn't had a consistent season. In some games, he's thrown pitches like a monkey throws darts: erratic and with no sense of the bull's-eye.
But Mussina's past five starts, all in June, show that the veteran right-hander is hitting his spots. Consider the numbers on the dartboard: 5.63, 5.17, 5.10, 4.98 and 4.63.
Mussina's ERA is dipping downward, and his confidence is shooting skyward, especially after his seven strong innings against the Athletics on Friday night in a 2-1 win at Yankee Stadium that handed manager Joe Torre his 2,010th career victory and lifted him past Leo Durocher for possession of ninth place on the all-time managerial wins list.
"I just feel like I have my feet under me better on the mound and that I know where the ball is going, and I have confidence in my stuff," Mussina said. "I've been out there for the last month or so, doing a pretty decent job and feeling decent about the way I've been throwing the ball. I think things are improving; I just want to throw the last three months of the season the way I threw [in] June."
And the Yankees just want more victories like this one, a one-run game. Coming into this series against Oakland, the Yankees were 4-13 in such contests.
History had a chance to repeat itself when the seventh inning came. Eric Chavez hit a leadoff double off Mussina, and Mark Ellis singled, moving Chavez to third.
That set up Dan Johnson, who hit a sharp grounder off Mussina's shin that shot toward second baseman Robinson Cano to start a 1-4-6-3 double play. Chavez scored on the play, but Mussina liked the two outs for one run tradeoff.
"If you're going to have a good year, you have to get some breaks once in a while," Mussina said. "We haven't gotten too many breaks, but today we got a few, and we needed them to win a close game."
The Athletics couldn't get anything more going against Mussina, who left after the seventh inning, having scattered six hits and struck out three.
Mussina kept his pitch count low (84) but Torre said that he had a gut feeling to go to the bullpen in the eighth. With the way things were going, the A's were happy with the move.
"His soft game was real good and his control was good with his fastball," A's manager Bob Geren said of Mussina. "That's a tough combination."
Some frightful reminiscing sprung up an inning earlier, when left fielder Hideki Matsui slid in an attempt to catch a Mark Kotsay liner.
Shannon Stewart was on first base, and he went about two-thirds of the way to second before retreating, as it appeared Matsui caught the ball, his left wrist ramming into the ground in a similar play to one that occurred against the Red Sox last season and led to a fractured left wrist for Matsui.
Was Matsui relieved that danger didn't strike twice?
"I don't think he's looking forward to the next time he tries to do it," Torre said.
The Yankees jumped on A's starter Joe Kennedy for their two runs in the first inning. Alex Rodriguez hit an RBI double and Jorge Posada plated A-Rod with a single. Yes, that was it for the Yankees' offense.
Two runs, but Rodriguez said they meant a great deal to Mussina.
"I think all our pitchers, we've got to give them a margin for error," Rodriguez said. "That hasn't been there lately, so it's important to not only get runs early, but add on top of that."
The runs didn't hold up without a little testing, though. Kyle Farnsworth relieved Mussina in the eighth, and the A's bats started finding red seams.
Stewart and Kotsay hit back-to-back singles with one out off Farnsworth before the right-hander struck out Nick Swisher. Torre made his slow pace to the mound and removed his setup man for closer Mariano Rivera.
Once Farnsworth made it back to the Yankees' dugout, he threw his mitt against the back wall, and he was in no mood to discuss his appearance -- or exit -- after Friday's victory, only briefly stopping at his locker and refusing to comment.
He then disappeared into an off-limits area of the clubhouse.
The incident was the second in a week involving Farnsworth, who also shattered a bat in the clubhouse after being removed from a game at San Francisco.
"He was upset, but he has to understand that it shouldn't be an embarrassment when you bring Mariano Rivera out of the bullpen," Torre said.
Rivera stuck out three A's as he pitched 1 1/3 innings for his 10th save of the season and a milestone win for Torre.
"I was hoping this would have happened earlier this year," Torre said. "I knew Leo, and he certainly was well thought of, and a great manager. Any time you're passing guys like that, it certainly leaves an impression."
Caleb Breakey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.