Mussina goes seven as Yanks prevail
Criticized right-hander responds with career victory No. 252
CHICAGO -- Mike Mussina may have made a conscious in-game effort to stay away from using his curveball, but that didn't keep Jorge Posada from throwing him one.
During a mound visit in the seventh inning, Yankees manager Joe Girardi trotted out to check how the right-hander was doing, having just served up a solo homer. Posada blurted out, "He's got nothing," then quickly bit his tongue.
What Posada meant to say was, "Nothing's wrong." Satisfied with that humorous explanation, Girardi returned to the dugout and Mussina finished the seventh inning, helping the Yankees to a 6-4 victory over the White Sox on Wednesday at U.S. Cellular Field.
"He said, 'He's got nothing,'" Mussina said, chuckling later. "I heard him, plain as day. We spent the whole time before Joe got out there talking about what we were going to do, what was the plan: 'We're going to do this and this and this. Well, all right, let's go.' Then Joe comes out."
"Joe went right away to try and get [a reliever], and I said, 'No, no, no!'" Posada said. "It was a little miscommunication. It came out the wrong way."
After a tumultuous week that included an in-print criticism from Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner, Mussina could savor this one. Working for the first time since Steinbrenner suggested that Mussina pitch "more like Jamie Moyer," the hurler put his own spin on the controversy by limiting the White Sox to just one run -- a Joe Crede homer -- through the first six innings.
"People have always doubted me," Mussina said. "If you throw bad games, they doubt you. That's part of it when you're past 35 years old. Every time you step on a mound and give up two hits in an inning, that's just how it is. I'm just glad I'm still able to go out there and pitch."
Mussina, who also allowed a solo shot to Carlos Quentin before the confusing mound visit in the seventh, said that his trademark curveball abandoned him for the evening. That left him and Posada to adjust on the fly and throw approximately 85 percent two-seam fastballs.
The new look worked; with a lead in hand, Mussina got Crede to line out to right field, ending the seventh inning, and exited in line for the victory.
"It wasn't really rocket science," Mussina said. "We kept doing what was working."
"That's pitching -- look it up, that's what it looks like," said Chicago's Paul Konerko. "It didn't seem like he threw a bunch of mistakes in the middle of the plate. He hit the corners and missed off the corners. That's him."
While Mussina scattered four hits, walking one and striking out three in a 101-pitch performance, Posada and Johnny Damon each drove in two runs for New York. Facing former Yankees right-hander Javier Vazquez, New York put a second-inning run on the board when Melky Cabrera legged out a bases-loaded infield single to shortstop Orlando Cabrera.
Posada drove home two runs with a double -- one of a career-high three in the game -- to center field in the fifth, eluding the grasp of center fielder Nick Swisher, who dove for the ball. Catching for the second consecutive game after being held out of starting duty behind the plate since April 8, Posada said he much preferred the blood flow of being involved on the field.
"I just feel comfortable," Posada said. "It's the only thing I know how to do. When you're back there, the only thing you think about is the game. When you're DHing, you've just got a lot of thoughts in your mind. I feel more comfortable when I'm back there."
With three doubles on Wednesday, Posada reached 308 two-base hits for his Yankees career, surpassing Earle Combs for sole possession of 12th place on the Yankees' all-time list.
The Yankees broke it open with three runs in the sixth, scoring on an RBI single by Derek Jeter and Damon's two-run double -- his seventh RBI in the past three games, a trip on which he is hitting .381 (8-for-21). Vazquez exited after 5 1/3 innings, allowing six runs on 10 hits while walking three and striking out three.
Chicago closed the gap after Mussina's exit. LaTroy Hawkins issued a one-out walk to Swisher and allowed a hit to Cabrera before Jim Thome drilled a run-scoring single past a diving Jason Giambi, greeting left-hander Billy Traber with a run.
That prompted Girardi to call upon Mariano Rivera for a five-out save. Rivera allowed a sacrifice fly to Konerko in the eighth, drawing the White Sox to within two runs, but he then worked a perfect ninth inning for his sixth save.
"The game was on the line," Girardi said. "To me, that was when we had to shut the door."
Rivera's work preserved Mussina's 252nd career win and the 41st save Rivera has logged for Mussina in his career -- the fourth-highest total in history for any pair of pitchers. More immediately, it made Mussina successful in his third attempt at passing Bob Gibson on baseball's all-time wins list.
"I think all these things will settle in more when I don't play anymore," Mussina said. "Wherever I stop at, I'll see who I've been able to pass. Bob Gibson is a pretty big name. Whitey Ford (236) was a pretty big name. There are some guys that I've been able to get by who are pretty well known and have been able to do a lot in this game. I'm just lucky people keep giving me the chance to pitch."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.