Yanks back from break with a bang
Cano, Rodriguez go deep behind solid Mussina
NEW YORK -- Mike Mussina's time off brought a down-home dose of fun at a county fair, and he wasn't necessarily counting the minutes to return, yet the Yankees made him feel comfortable back at the office.
Robinson Cano and Alex Rodriguez homered, Richie Sexson drove in a run in his debut and Mussina spun six strong innings, and the Yankees returned from the All-Star break to post a 7-1 victory over the A's on Friday night.
"We looked good today," Mussina said. "If we can look like this every day, we've got a chance."
Posting 11 victories in the first half, Mussina was considered a strong contender to make the American League All-Star team, and as it turned out, they probably could have used him.
But when AL All-Star skipper Terry Francona was rifling through his bullpen, looking for pitchers to work in his team's 15-inning victory on Tuesday, Mussina was relaxing far from the glitz and glamour of the Midsummer Classic, spending quiet moments in Pennsylvania and making sure his kids were in bed by a decent hour.
They could have watched plenty of the workload on Friday. Mussina (12-6) turned in six innings of one-run ball, scattering nine hits to surpass his season wins total from 2007.
"I'm pleased that I had a good first half and got off to a good start here in the second half," he said. "There's a lot more baseball here to be played. Hopefully, I can keep doing what I've been doing and win a lot of ballgames."
Touched only by an RBI fielder's choice in the first inning, Mussina walked none for the second straight start and struck out six, including fanning the side in the second inning. He said that he began to settle in a bit more as the game went on.
"He kept the ball down all night and got a lot of ground balls tonight," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I thought he did a good job of using his fastball tonight and staying down in the zone. Some of the base hits got through, but he kept from giving up doubles and homers. You can do that if you can spread it out like he did."
The Yankees put on a hitting exhibition against A's left-hander Greg Smith, who was bumped up a day in the rotation by the trade of Joe Blanton to the Phillies on Thursday. Smith (5-8) was rapped for six runs on eight hits through 3 2/3 innings, though he did not help his cause by walking five batters.
"He seemed to keep just missing," A's manager Bob Geren said. "He wasn't missing bad. [The Yankees] were taking pitches, to their credit."
Making his debut as the Yankees' first baseman and No. 5 hitter after finalizing a free-agent contract earlier in the day, Sexson put New York on the board in his first at-bat, stroking a two-out single to center and tying the score for his new team.
"It was a fun night," Sexson said. "Those are some of the hardest runs in baseball, the two-out RBIs, and it was fun to watch. ... It's a lot better having these fans on your side, that's for sure. It's a great atmosphere. I've always loved coming here, because it's a great place to play."
Sexson was available to the Yankees because of his underwhelming performance for the Mariners, who cut him loose on July 10 after he had batted .218 with 11 homers and 30 RBIs in 74 games.
But Sexson -- due $14 million from Seattle but just the pro-rated league minimum from New York -- had excelled against left-handed pitching, batting .344 with five homers and 12 RBIs in 61 at-bats. At a bargain price, signing him seemed worth the risk.
"It's a big bat, especially against left-handers, because he's got a lot of power," Girardi said. "He plays a very good first base as well. He's a complete player, and if we can get him back to where he was, he'll be a big addition."
Cano ripped a three-run homer off Smith in the bottom of the third, his seventh homer of the season and first of the month. After a slow start to his season, Cano may be ready to embrace his usual late-season surge, as he is hitting .335 in his career after the All-Star break.
"He's grinded his way through it," Girardi said. "There's been a progression where he gets better every month, and over the last month, he's been at his best. We need him to continue to do that, because he's a big bat in our order."
In the fifth inning, Derek Jeter scored from first base on Bobby Abreu's double over the head of A's left fielder Emil Brown, with the relay throw from shortstop Bobby Crosby scooting past catcher Kurt Suzuki for an error.
Rodriguez completed the scoring against Smith with an RBI single through the left side before reliever Jerry Blevins pinned the bases loaded. Rodriguez helped the Yankees add on by belting a solo homer to right in the sixth, his 20th of the season and the 538th of his Major League career.
Oakland did not have a baserunner after the fifth inning, a span of 14 batters. After Mussina exited, the A's were completely silenced by three innings of perfect relief.
Rookie Dave Robertson struck out the side in the seventh, Edwar Ramirez fanned two in the eighth and long reliever LaTroy Hawkins turned in a 1-2-3 ninth to seal the Yankees' fifth consecutive victory at home.
"You just want to build off of today," Girardi said. "We're talking about winning series, and [we] have a chance to go out and do that [on Saturday]. You just want to build off of today and take it one game at a time, and take care of business."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.