Baltimore (70-81) at New York (88-63)

Cloudy Currently: New York, NY
Temp: 30° F
  • Game info: 7:05 pm EDT Thu Sep 22, 2005
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The New York Yankees are all alone atop the AL East for the first time in more than two months.

Mike Mussina will try to give them a little breathing room when he makes his first September start in the finale of a four-game series with the visiting Baltimore Orioles.

New York has won each of the last seven AL East titles, with Boston finishing second each time. After chasing down the Red Sox for most of the summer, the Yankees finally reclaimed their familiar spot Wednesday with a 2-1 victory over the Orioles, coupled with Boston’s 7-4 loss at Tampa Bay.

The Yankees moved a half-game in front of the Red Sox—their first lead over Boston since July 18. The Red Sox are off on Thursday.

With a season-ending three-game series at Fenway Park looming, the Yankees will try to continue taking advantage of their remaining home games. They have won three in a row from the Orioles to kick off a seven-game homestand, and nine of 10 overall.

“First place only counts on that last Sunday,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

Mussina, the Yankees’ most consistent starter for most of the season, was pounded for 12 runs and 12 hits over 7 1-3 innings before shutting himself down at the end of August with discomfort in his right elbow. He said Tuesday he expected to return for the series finale, likely on a pitch count of about 80.

“When I get to 100 percent we’ll see how it responds,” Mussina said. “When you come back and haven’t pitched in a while you don’t know how it’s going to go.”

Mussina’s return would give the Yankees six starters, but Torre said he wouldn’t know if he would consider a rotation that size until after he talked to pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.

He said no decision would be made until after he sees Mussina pitch.

“Thursday, if Moose is the pitcher … I think once he gets through that game and doesn’t have a problem, then we have to decide on what we’re going to do,” Torre said. “But I think we can put that off until Friday.”

The Orioles, who led the East for most of the first half of the season, continued their swoon by losing for the sixth time in seven games.

Making matters worse, the Orioles learned Wednesday that All-Star second baseman Brian Roberts has ligament and tendon damage in his left arm and will need surgery that usually requires a recovery time of about six months.

Baltimore’s leadoff hitter remained hospitalized at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, a day after a collision with Yankees outfielder Bubba Crosby at first base. Roberts was being given painkillers and will return to Baltimore on Thursday, Orioles trainer Richie Bancells said.

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Starting Pitchers

B. Chen Cle vs. M. Mussina NYY
13-10 Record 13-8
3.83 ERA 4.41
133 K 142
63 BB 47
1.27 WHIP 1.37