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07/04/07 6:00 PM ET

Yankees stifled by Santana, Twins

New York collects just four hits in support of Mussina

NEW YORK -- George Steinbrenner answered his phone early Wednesday afternoon, and it should be no surprise what the Yankees principal owner asked for as he turned 77.

"Of course, he wanted a win for his birthday," Torre said. "I couldn't deliver."

Outfielder Jason Kubel spoiled what had been an enjoyable Independence Day for Mike Mussina, slugging the right-hander's 93rd and final pitch into the short right-field porch for a game-changing two-run homer, leading the Twins to a 6-2 victory at Yankee Stadium.

Guarding a tie as the contest moved to the seventh inning, Mussina surrendered a leadoff double to Torii Hunter and incorrectly anticipated that Kubel might bunt to move Hunter to third. The resulting fat offering was just about all Mussina could kick himself about in the six-plus-inning effort.

"I just let two pitches ruin my day -- ruin our day," Mussina said. "I don't know how things would have turned out, but in two pitches, I ruined our day. It's harder than giving up seven runs in two innings. You'd rather get pounded."

Though Mussina lost for the third time in his last four starts, he continues to feel progress is being made, particularly on this homestand.

Mussina followed up his seven innings of one-run ball against the A's on Friday by limiting the Twins to just three hits before the fateful seventh, impressing with a good changeup and curveball, plus a well-located fastball.

Jason Bartlett was the Twins' catalyst in the early innings, reaching on a Derek Jeter error and scoring on a Justin Morneau ground-rule double in the first, while singling, stealing second and scoring in the sixth.

Mussina's command all afternoon prompted Torre to allow Mussina to "decide his own fate" after the leadoff double to Hunter, even though the Yankees were prepared to make a pitching change, starting the inning by getting reliever Luis Vizcaino warm.

"He pitched great all day, I thought," Torre said. "It's just a shame the last couple of pitches puts a damper, basically, on his game."

The Yankees knew they had a heavy workload ahead with reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana on the mound for Minnesota.

But through the first four innings, the Yankees felt pretty good about their chances of gift-wrapping a nice gesture to Steinbrenner, who watched on television from his home base in Tampa, Fla.

Hideki Matsui continued to find his stroke, putting the Yankees on the board in the second inning with a solo home run off Santana, clearing the right-field wall. The outfielder appears to be escaping a skid, and he is one of the few who has hit Santana well, improving to 6-for-15 (.400) lifetime against the southpaw.

"With him, you've got to focus on a specific pitch or zone," Matsui said through an interpreter. "I don't know if that works. Today, it just so happened the results were there. That's really the only kind of plan you can have for a pitcher like that."

In the fourth, Jeter stroked a leadoff double and gave the Yankees a 2-1 lead when Andy Phillips ripped a one-hop bouncer off the glove of third baseman Luis Rodriguez, who deflected the shot in a half-dive, half-slide movement.

That turned out to be it for New York. The Yankees did not manage a hit or baserunner after Santana stifled the fourth-inning rally, issuing a careful free pass to No. 8 hitter Kevin Thompson before deciding -- in Torre's opinion -- to attack light-hitting reserve catcher Wil Nieves instead.

The strategy worked, as Santana got Nieves to fly out harmlessly to right field, ending the inning and leaving the bases loaded.

"He's pretty much tough every day," Jeter said. "He's successful against everyone. When you go into the game with him, there's not too many teams that score five, six runs off him. He's pretty good about getting guys on base and pitching out of it."

Santana wrapped his afternoon after seven innings, limiting the Yankees to just four hits and two walks in a 107-pitch, five-strikeout effort before Pat Neshek and Joe Nathan hurled perfect innings.

"We had our chances today, but Santana was pretty good," said Alex Rodriguez, who was hitless in four trips and is 0-for-8 since straining his left hamstring on Monday.

The Twins extended their lead in the top of the ninth inning when Luis Rodriguez reached reliever Brian Bruney for a two-run homer to right. Bruney has allowed three runs and four hits in his last two appearances, and Torre said that the right-hander is not locating his pitches as well as he can right now.

"I know Gator [pitching coach Ron Guidry] has talked a lot to him about that, that you can sacrifice a couple miles per hour for location," Torre said. "You can't throw it too hard through these guys anymore."

The game marked the official halfway point of the season for the Yankees, who completed their first 81 contests of the year three games under .500 at 39-42.

"We'd like to play better," Jeter said. "That pretty much goes without saying. Hopefully the second half will be a lot better for us."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.