The offseason additions of Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano were supposed to help take some heat off Mike Mussina in the New York Yankees’ rotation. Instead, the veteran right-hander has once again been thrust into the role of staff ace.
Mussina will look to win his third straight decision and post his team-high 13th victory when the Yankees continue a four-game series with the visiting Toronto Blue Jays.
Mussina, 36, won at least 17 games in each of his first three seasons with New York, but managed to go only 12-9 last year after the departures of rotation staples Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens and David Wells.
However, with Johnson and Pavano added to alleviate some of the pressure, Mussina was expected to settle in nicely to the third slot in the rotation. Unfortunately for New York, Pavano pitched well below expectations before landing on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, likely to keep him out for the remainder of the season.
Johnson, a five-time Cy Young Award winner, has also underachieved during his first season in the Bronx, going 11-8 with a 4.34 ERA—well above his career 3.13 mark.
Mussina has emerged as New York’s most consistent starter, going 7-3 since early June, with the Yankees winning 10 of his 14 starts during that stretch.
On Friday, he allowed one run and five hits over seven strong innings in a 3-1 victory over the AL-leading Chicago White Sox. Mussina walked one—his first free pass in three starts—and struck out seven, improving to 2-0 over his last three starts.
“This has been a strange year for a lot of reasons,” he said. “We’ve had some big injuries and we were up and down very drastically the first half of the season.
“We’ve had a lot of tough losses, a lot of tough stretches.”
Mussina leads the Yankees in wins (12), ERA (3.88) and ranks second in innings and strikeouts to Johnson.
The Yankees continued their postseason push with a dramatic 5-4 win Tuesday. Hideki Matsui hit a game-tying homer leading off the ninth and rookie Felix Escalona delivered the victory with a two-out RBI single.
New York moved percentage points ahead of red-hot Cleveland for first place in the AL wild-card race, with Oakland dropping a game back after a 4-1 loss in Detroit on Tuesday.
The Yankees have won nine of their last 12 games to move a season-high 14 games above 500.
Vernon Wells had three hits, including a homer, for Toronto, which has lost a season high-tying five in a row.
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