Cycle eludes Abreu in Yanks' win
Right fielder misses milestone by double; Jeter strains quad
NEW YORK -- The cost of this win won't be clear for some time. For now, it was simply a victory, 6-1 over the Rays, on a cold and windy Monday night. But should Derek Jeter, who left the game early with a strained left quadriceps, miss any significant amount of time, then the Yankees might ultimately look back at this night and cringe.
Until they know for sure, they'll focus on the good -- and there was plenty of that. Mike Mussina pitched a strong six innings to earn his first win of the season, Bobby Abreu homered and amassed three hits and Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui each drove in runs. All of that was more than enough to drop the Rays at Yankee Stadium and earn a split of the four-game series -- laced, of course, with a twinge of worry.
"Leg injuries aren't an exact science," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We'll have to see."
Until then, they'll simply focus on the good, and Monday evening provided plenty. Abreu was at the center of nearly all the early offense, lining a two-run home run over the right-field wall in the first inning, then tripling to set up a run in the sixth. By the time Abreu came to bat in the seventh inning, he was a double short of the cycle.
Seven pitches later, Abreu trotted to first base with a walk -- and as tempted as he might have been, he didn't even think about swinging at ball four.
"If you play like a team, you're going to win some games," Abreu said. "I don't like to play individually."
The strategy worked, because Matsui and Robinson Cano followed with RBI singles, breaking open what once had been a close game. Anchoring the middle of the lineup, those two, along with A-Rod and Abreu, drove in all six of the team's runs.
The miniature offensive outburst marked the first time this season the Yankees had scored more than four runs in a game -- the first time, really, that the entire lineup had jelled. Entering Monday's play, New York was averaging 2.8 runs per game.
"It was good to see us score more than three runs," Girardi said. "It's good when you get production all up and down the lineup. Obviously, we have guys that know how to work the pitcher, and we did a nice job of that."
On this night, of course, any offense would have been plenty for Mike Mussina, who won career game No. 251 with his sharpest outing since last September. Mussina completed six innings -- needing only 82 pitches to do it -- and allowed just one run on two hits.
Though Monday marked Mussina's first win, it also marked his second straight encouraging outing. With a little more run support in his debut last week, Mussina might have already won twice. Not bad, considering he didn't win his second game until May 9 last year.
"I came to Spring Training this year with the intent to prove to myself that I could pitch better than last season, that all the stuff that was nagging at me last year -- the stuff that kept me from doing what I wanted to do -- was all behind me," Mussina said.
Mussina featured a sharp curveball in this one, striking out three batters and inducing most of his 11 ground balls with the pitch. That's the type of finesse pitch that he knows he'll need if he has plans to succeed this season, one that eluded him a bit last year.
"I threw it a lot, and I could throw it for strikes," Mussina said. "I could dump it in slow or throw it hard in the ground for strikeouts. I just made pitches when I had to."
Even that, however, was dampened a bit by the news on Jeter. The captain could miss a few games, return back at full strength and boost the Yankees as they know he can. Or he could miss a few weeks, land on the DL and plunge the Bombers into an early hole.
No matter how well Mussina pitches or the lineup hits, Jeter is still what makes this team click. They're simply not the same without him, so right now, they can only hope they'll eventually look back on this win without any sense of regret.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.