Mike Mussina passed his biggest test of the season with flying colors.
Now the New York Yankees need him to ace a potential two-part exam to end the regular season.
Following a successful return from injury, Mussina will be back on the mound for the Yankees when they continue their pivotal four-game series with the Baltimore Orioles.
Mussina missed more than three weeks with right elbow inflammation, an injury that many feared would end his season and derail the Yankees’ run at an 11th straight postseason appearance.
However, he returned Thursday and gave the Yankees the type of performance that could push them over the top in their quest for an eighth straight AL East title. New York currently leads Boston by a half-game with six to play.
Expected to throw no more than 80 pitches, Mussina ended up using 76 over six impressive innings, and allowed just an unearned run in the Yankees’ 7-6 win over the Orioles at Yankee Stadium.
“I had to find out, and we had to find out whether I could go out there and pitch,” Mussina said. “You can’t throw a test out there the last week of the year or in the postseason, when every game is as big as they are. I had to know now whether I could go do it or whether I couldn’t.”
New York has little margin for error this week. After completing this series, the Yankees will conclude the regular season at Fenway Park for what will likely be a do-or-die weekend set with the Red Sox.
Mussina is currently slated to pitch Sunday’s regular season finale.
The Yankees own the lead in the East because they beat the Orioles 11-3 on Monday in a game that featured two early rain delays. Randy Johnson pitched six shutout innings and Jason Giambi hit a three-run homer during New York’s six-run fourth inning.
The Yankees have won 13 of 15.
The weather was also inclement in Boston where the Red Sox’s opener of their three-game series with Toronto was postponed. The teams will play a day-night doubleheader on Tuesday.
The Orioles have lost seven straight to the Yankees, and a season-high nine in a row overall.
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