Mussina struggles as Yanks tripped
Guillen's grand slam helps Detroit to win in series opener
NEW YORK -- The Yankees' previous encounter with the Tigers resulted in the season's premature ending. The rematch may be a warning against the same.
Facing Detroit for the first time since last year's American League Division Series, the Yankees were down and out early. Carlos Guillen hit a first-inning grand slam and Mike Mussina never recovered, suffering an 8-5 defeat in the opener of a four-game series Thursday.
The Yankees, baseball's winningest team in the second half, lost for the third consecutive game and slipped a half-game behind the idle Seattle Mariners in the AL Wild Card race.
"We were rolling really well there for a long time," said Mussina (8-8). "In the last three days, we've made that disappear in a hurry. We've got to get it straightened back out in a hurry, or all that work we just accomplished the last month or so will wind up being a waste."
Part of the Yankees' difficulties of late has revolved around their inability to cope with hot pitching after more than a month of fattening up against mediocre competition.
The Orioles took two of three from the Yankees behind solid performances from Daniel Cabrera and Erik Bedard, and the Tigers didn't make things easier Thursday by offering right-hander Justin Verlander, who logged his team-leading 13th victory.
"We've gone up against pitchers who are pitching well -- Cabrera, Bedard and now we face Verlander," said Derek Jeter. "Those are going to be challenges. Unfortunately, we haven't been up to it yet."
Guillen's grand slam, his second of the season, came off Mussina with one out in the first inning. It was a shot to right-center field that, according to outfielder Bobby Abreu, wasn't really hit all that well but carried further than it was expected to.
In the last game the Yankees played against Detroit, Alex Rodriguez suffered what he would later call one of the greatest embarrassments of his career, as he was dropped to eighth in New York's order and played out a 1-for-14 ALDS.
Rodriguez's troubles against the Tigers continued Thursday, as he went 0-for-4 and committed an error that helped set up Detroit's big first inning. Rodriguez couldn't flag a sharp Gary Sheffield grounder, the ball scooting under his glove and into left field to put two men on.
After a walk, Guillen connected with the big blow.
"That's a big play there," Rodriguez said. "Bang-bang, and Sheff runs well, but that's a throw I should make. That's a play I need to make. You feel bad for Moose -- maybe if I make that play, he goes out and pitches a gem."
New York chipped away with a run in the first inning and two in the third, as Hideki Matsui stroked an RBI single and Abreu connected on a two-run homer, his 24th.
The Yankees' plan involved working deep counts against Verlander (13-4) and elevating his pitch count, and for the most part, they were successful. But Verlander has been no stranger to high pitch-count territories, cracking the 100-offering mark in five consecutive starts and in 17 of 24 games this season.
Verlander bent but never broke, scattering seven hits over 5 1/3 innings while walking one and striking out two in a 119-pitch effort.
"We knew early on, even in the first inning, that he was throwing a lot of pitches," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We did what we needed to do. We just didn't get the result that we needed to get."
Trying for his fifth consecutive victory, Mussina faded in and out of command, particularly in the first two innings. He finished the second inning with 50 pitches thrown and six runs on the board -- damage done by run-scoring hits off the bats of Brandon Inge and Magglio Ordonez.
"[Mussina] just looked like he wasn't able to do what he wanted to do," Torre said. "They're a tough team to pitch to, and he just got [into] bad counts. That, I think, was his undoing."
In the fifth, Sean Casey came through with an RBI single for the final run off Mussina. He was charged with seven runs (six earned), allowing nine hits while walking two and striking out two while losing for the first time since July 20.
"It was a struggle from the beginning, and it kind of makes what I've done for the last couple of weeks seem a long time ago," Mussina said.
Figuratively kicking himself for not helping the Yankees right their small slide, Mussina conceded the Yankees -- playing .750 ball after the All-Star break going into Tuesday's loss against Baltimore -- were not going to play that caliber of ball down the entire stretch.
But Mussina warned that the team cannot afford to fall into losing streaks of three or more games with any regularity if they hope to keep their still-realistic playoff hopes alive.
"We've got to be able to stop it and get going in the right direction," Mussina said.
Ivan Rodriguez slugged a solo homer off left-hander Ron Villone in the seventh, completing Detroit's scoring and making a two-run rally off Todd Jones in the ninth a mere footnote; run-scoring hits from Matsui and Jorge Posada were too little, too late.
Even the extra weapon buttons weren't working. Fresh off a game-tying, pinch-hit three-run homer in Wednesday's contest, Torre again turned to Shelley Duncan in a big spot, sending the big-swinging rookie up to pinch-hit for Johnny Damon with two on in the sixth.
There was no heroic reprise. This time, Duncan struck out against right-hander Zach Miner.
"Well, you never know," Torre said. "It's unusual at that point to pinch-hit for Johnny, but I thought we had a chance to get a three-runner [homer] there.
"It wasn't to be."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.