Mussina, Yanks survive late Sox rally
After starter's six strong frames, Rivera escapes jam in ninth
NEW YORK -- It isn't often that Mariano Rivera provides a high-wire act worth sweating about.
Luckily for the Yankees, they've already learned this season that Rivera's presence in a save situation translates to money in the bank. History's top closer just needed a little more time to nail down the final out Saturday, eventually securing the victory in a 2-1 defeat of the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.
"You usually don't see many innings like that from Mo," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I don't know if I've ever seen him hit two guys in an inning. I don't think that's ever happened. It's unusual, but we got a chance again to see why Mo is so great."
All-Star candidate Mike Mussina gave the Yankees six scoreless innings before leaving with light-headed symptoms, and when Girardi told Mussina, "We'll get you some help," he wasn't joking. Jose Veras and Kyle Farnsworth each hurled a scoreless frame to deliver the ball to Rivera in the ninth inning, where he'd eventually lock down his 23rd save in as many opportunities.
It didn't come as effortlessly as most of the rest; in fact, Rivera had never hit two batters in any of his previous 898 Major League appearances, including 76 postseason contests.
Missing his location by great amounts, Rivera surrendered a leadoff single to J.D. Drew and hit Manny Ramirez with a pitch -- Ramirez's third time getting on base the hard way -- before Mike Lowell sliced a single to right-center field, driving in Boston's first run of the afternoon.
Though he next hit Kevin Youkilis with a pitch to load the bases, Rivera would ensure it would be the Red Sox's only run. Feeling his stuff improve, Rivera struck out Coco Crisp swinging and induced Jason Varitek to pop out before fanning Julio Lugo to end the game in a flourish.
"What I told myself is, 'Whatever happened [had] happened already,'" Rivera said. "'Now you have to make your pitches and get out of it.'"
In the players' lounge beneath the first-base seats, Mussina had spent the entire ninth inning pacing, trying six different viewing locations -- some of them without a clear angle at the television. If Mussina's light-headedness still persisted by that point, Rivera's antics probably didn't make him feel a whole lot better.
"It just gives you some more gray hair," Mussina said. "He's been so smooth and so good. Some ninth innings are 10 or 11 pitches, and it's not even an effort. Then there's today, which was the complete opposite. I could tell in the first two hitters that he didn't really know where the ball was going very well."
Rivera was in a situation to tantalize the crowd because of Mussina's strong effort, which he acknowledged might just have made a "small impression" on Red Sox manager Terry Francona -- the eyes in charge of determining the pitching staff for the July 15 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.
"Whether I make it or not, I've had a good first half and I'm pleased with it," Mussina said. "If I don't go to the All-Star Game, then I'll go to the county fair, and the kids will enjoy that, too."
With six innings of scoreless ball, Mussina worked into position to log his 11th victory, far more in this resurgent season than many were willing to give him credit for. Limiting the Red Sox to four hits over an 89-pitch performance, Mussina beat the Red Sox for the first time in three tries this season with, he said, all of his pitches working.
"You don't go out there counting on everything working, but there are some days," Mussina said.
Mussina's previous starts against Boston were more on par with what the doubters had in mind, as he was pounded for three home runs and six RBIs by Ramirez alone. This time, Mussina silenced Ramirez -- even though he hit him in both of their first two meetings, contributing two of the seven hit batsmen in Saturday's game, tying a Major League record.
"I'm not the same pitcher I was in those games," Mussina said. "Anybody that's watched me pitch the last two months knows I'm doing things differently than I was then. It's satisfying, sure; it's Boston-Yankees. It's a big win for all of us."
Facing rookie right-hander Justin Masterson, the Yankees opened scoring in the second inning, as Jason Giambi walked and moved up on Robinson Cano's two-out single. Melky Cabrera shot a hard grounder through the right side, and J.D. Drew came up firing from right field, beating Giambi to the plate with his throw by a good margin.
But Giambi saw the play developing and slid to the outside of the plate, reaching back to slap it with his left hand before Jason Varitek could place a tag on the lumbering slugger.
"That's a big man going around third base, but you know it's the right decision because of the situation," Girardi said. "He got a good jump, and he did a nice job and he had a very good slide. I'm not holding my breath; I'm just hoping that he beats the throw."
The Yankees had the bases loaded with one out in the third inning, but as has been their custom of late, were not able to score. Giambi struck out swinging and Wilson Betemit grounded out to second base, ending the inning and leaving all three men on.
Alex Rodriguez also tried to get something going in the fifth inning, singling off Masterson and then stealing both second and third base. Giambi hit a line drive toward right field, but Youkilis tumbled to his left and brought it down with a nice grab.
Ultimately, the Yankees loaded the bases again in the sixth on two singles and a Jose Molina hit-by-pitch. Brett Gardner lifted a sacrifice fly to left field for his second Major League RBI, making it 2-0 and providing what would eventually hold up as the margin of victory, though he couldn't have known it at the time.
"I was just trying to find a way to get a run in," Gardner said. "I got a pitch up in the zone and was able to drive it a little bit. Thanks goodness we got that one, because we needed it."
Gardner -- starting in place of the injured Johnny Damon -- also made a strong throw in the first inning to cut down Dustin Pedroia at second base trying to stretch a single into a double, perhaps the best example of the Yankees' defense on an afternoon when their consistency finally appeared to show signs of breaking through.
"This was a big game for us," Girardi said. "Obviously, it's been a tough weekend for us. We needed a win. Boston is one of the teams we're chasing, and we needed to make up ground."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.