Mussina tries for his third straight victory while helping the Yankees move closer to another postseason berth on Sunday when they continue their final home series of the season against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Mussina (10-10, 5.01 ERA), who’s going for his 250th career win, also will try to help New York (89-65) reach 90 victories for the seventh consecutive season. The Yankees start play 2 1/2 games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East, and hold a 5 1/2-game lead over the Detroit Tigers for the wild card as they attempt to make the postseason for the 13th straight year.
The 38-year-old right-hander was moved up a day in the rotation after Roger Clemens was pushed back due to a hamstring injury.
Since being dropped from the rotation in late August after allowing 19 earned runs in three consecutive losses, Mussina has rebounded after working his first game out of the bullpen.
“This has not been the easiest year,” the 17-year veteran said. “Certainly not what I was looking forward to or planning for, but it is what it is. I make my living out there pitching and I have to keep doing it.
“I wasn’t ready to be the pitcher that I was there for a while. I wasn’t ready to do that yet.”
Mussina didn’t allow a run for his second straight start since rejoining the rotation and gave up three hits in seven innings of a 12-0 home victory over Baltimore on Tuesday. He threw 5 2-3 scoreless innings in a 4-1 victory at Toronto on Sept. 12.
“I felt I could do whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it,” Mussina said of his most recent start. “You don’t have many days like that.”
He is 22-11 with a 3.31 ERA in 40 starts against the Blue Jays (78-76), who had a four-game winning streak snapped Saturday. Melky Cabrera singled home the winning run in the 10th inning Saturday for his fifth RBI, lifting New York to a wild 12-11 win.
“We needed this win. It would have been a huge blow to lose this game, especially after last night,” Alex Rodriguez said, referring to Friday’s 5-4 loss in 14 innings. “It was like a heavyweight battle. You had the feeling that whoever batted last would get the win.”
Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui combined for seven hits and six RBIs on Saturday for New York, which has won five of six and is 14-5 in September. Matsui bounced back after an 0-for-5 night Friday and is 3-for-10 with a homer against Toronto’s Dustin McGowan, who gets the start Sunday.
McGowan (11-9, 3.84) is 3-1 in September, with the only loss coming to Mussina and the Yankees. McGowan was much better in his most recent outing, throwing a five-hitter and striking out nine for his second complete game of the season in a 6-1 win over Boston on Monday.
“When he’s prepared mentally, he’s as good as any starter in baseball,” Toronto’s Frank Thomas said. “I know that’s a bold statement, but it is true. His stuff can totally dominate a team. When he’s on, he’s on. I don’t care how good the hitters are.”
The right-hander is 2-1 with a 3.63 ERA in four starts against the Yankees, with each decision coming this season.
Toronto, though, could be without Thomas, who left Saturday’s game with a sore knee. He was 2-for-3 when he left and is batting .375 (30-for-80) with nine homers and 21 RBIs against Mussina
The Blue Jays already have lost center fielder Vernon Wells (shoulder) and third baseman Troy Glaus (foot) to season-ending injuries, and first baseman Lyle Overbay is scheduled to have hand surgery Tuesday.