SEATTLE (AP)—Mike Mussina saved the game ball—not because of his seven straight wins to open the season.
He was more proud of pitching his 2,500th inning. He’s saved every ball to mark 500-inning milestones during his 13-year career.
“Just trying to see how long I can keep going,” Mussina explained. “It’s important to know I’ve been healthy enough and played long enough. It’s a nice step, every 500 innings or so. I don’t know when my last 500 innings will be.”
Mussina (7-0) was masterful in his latest effort, striking out 12 to win his career-best ninth straight start. Hideki Matsui and Nick Johnson each hit two-run homers as the New York Yankees beat the Seattle Mariners 7-2 Wednesday night to end a three-game skid.
“It hasn’t happened like this at this level in my career,” Mussina said. “You don’t go out in the big leagues, start seven games and expect to win all seven.”
Mussina became the first AL pitcher to start the season 7-0 since Ben McDonald in 1994. Arizona’s Randy Johnson did it in 2000 in the NL.
“It’s just a fun ride,” Mussina said. “I’m trying to keep it going, trying the best I can. Just go out and pitch smart and pitch with conviction. It’s been working.”
Mussina snapped Seattle’s four-game winning streak and became the first Yankees pitcher since Bob Turley in 1958 to win his first seven starts in a season. Mussina beat the Mariners for the fourth straight time, including once last week in New York.
“He is a tough customer. He did it to us again,” Mariners manager Bob Melvin said.
The right-hander gave up two runs and five hits in eight innings and did not walk a batter. He won his final two regular-season starts last season before getting a no-decision in the playoffs against Anaheim.
“He’s in a good groove right now,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “He’s got a lot better placement on his fastball. He’s doing a lot of damage with it. When you think Mike Mussina you think knuckle and curve and offspeed stuff. So that makes his fastball that much better.”
Matsui and Johnson sparked New York’s potent offense, ending its first three-game losing streak this season. After Bernie Williams walked on four pitches to start the sixth, Matsui connected on a 2-1 pitch from Joel Pineiro (2-3) for his third homer of the year.
“I don’t think there’s a player who doesn’t feel good about hitting a home run,” Matsui said through an interpreter.
Ichiro Suzuki went back and leaped at the right-field wall, but the ball barely cleared the fence. It must have been a thrilling moment for Japanese fans, one star trying to rob the other of a home run.
“It was too far,” Suzuki said. “Against Mussina, that shot meant a lot to their team.”
Matsui’s homer put the Yankees ahead 4-1.
“It was a big home run for us,” Torre said. “He’s gotten some big hits. I’m sure he’s not hitting as well as he’d like, but the situational hitting he’s done has been outstanding.”
The lead was safe the way Mussina was throwing. He placed his pitches well all night and never seemed reluctant to throw anything. He seemed to get stronger as the game progressed, striking out the side in the eighth.
“He’s been able to place the ball where he wants to put it,” catcher Jorge Posada said. “It’s a lot of fun to play when he’s pitching right now. He’s doing everything. He’s throwing strikes, expanding the zone and going to work against hitters.”
Other than a solo home run by John Olerud that put the Mariners ahead 1-0 in the second, Mussina allowed only a double and single by Bret Boone, an infield single by Carlos Guillen and an RBI single by Mike Cameron.
“He is nasty,” Pineiro said. “You just hope he makes a mistake, but he doesn’t. His numbers, his record says it all.”
Nick Johnson added a two-run shot off Seattle reliever Julio Mateo in the seventh after Alfonso Soriano was hit by a pitch. Johnson also singled to center in the fifth, driving in Raul Mondesi to put the Yankees ahead 2-1.
“He hit some lasers tonight,” Torre said.
Mussina is 15-5 lifetime against Seattle. He’s won every start since a 13-2 loss to the White Sox on Sept. 13. … Olerud’s homer was the 18th allowed by the Yankees, fewest in the majors. … Matsui’s double in the fourth extended his hitting streak to a season-high eight games. … Thick white exhaust from a passing train drifted into the ballpark from right field in the bottom of the fifth. … Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera allowed one hit in ascoreless ninth.