ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP)—Mike Mussina felt much better as soon as rookie Robinson Cano gave the New York Yankees an early lead. Just like that, the right-hander wasn’t as concerned about his tender elbow.
Mussina pitched scoreless ball into the sixth inning, Cano lined a three-run double in the first and the Yankees beat Bartolo Colon again, defeating the Los Angeles Angels 4-2 in Game 1 of their AL division series Tuesday night.
“When you’re pitching on the road and you get to go to the mound in the first inning with runs, that’s a big deal,” said Mussina, who missed much of September because of his ailing elbow. “This is only the third time I’ve been to the mound since I had three weeks off. One was good and one was bad, so I didn’t have any idea what to expect.”
Mariano Rivera saved it for the Yankees, who looked completely fresh—even after a cross-country trek on the heels of a seven-game road trip to end the regular season. They traveled West late Sunday, one day after clinching their eighth consecutive AL East title with a victory over the rival Red Sox in Boston.
“We’ve been playing important games for the last month or so now,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. “It doesn’t matter whether we’re home or on the road.”
Darin Erstad’s RBI single cut it to 4-2 in the ninth, only the 10th earned run Rivera has allowed in 71 career postseason appearances. But the right-hander got pinch-hitter Casey Kotchman on a popup for his first postseason save since blowing chances in Games 4 and 5 against Boston in the 2004 AL championship series.
“I always have confidence,” Rivera said. “It’s big. It’s good to win.”
New York produced all its offense with two outs and wasted little time getting to Colon, a 21-game winner and leading contender for the AL Cy Young Award.
The Angels’ ace threw one ball in his first 13 pitches, but allowed three straight two-out singles in the first to the middle of New York’s order—Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui—prompting a visit from pitching coach Bud Black. Cano then lined a double over Garret Anderson’s head in left, clearing the bases with a huge hit in his first postseason at-bat.
“I had two strikes. I wanted to take my chance,” said Cano, whose drive went to the opposite field. “It’s something I’ve been working on all year in the big leagues, to use the whole field.”
Cano began the season with Triple-A Columbus, but was promoted in May as general manager Brian Cashman shook things up to get the Yankees out of an early-season skid.
After a sensational September that earned him AL rookie of the month honors, Cano’s clutch hit Tuesday helped the Yankees to their first victory in a division series opener since they took Game 1 from the Angels in 2002 before losing the next three. New York lost its first-round opener to Minnesota the past two seasons before winning three straight to advance.
Colon retired Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on five total pitches to start the game, then had two strikes against all four players who got first-inning hits.
“He’s as tough as any pitcher in baseball,” Jeter said. “We tried to score early and Robby had the big hit.”
The burly right-hander, who allowed three homers to A-Rod on April 26 in New York’s 12-4 win, reached 48 pitches after only two innings. He plunked Rodriguez in the back in the second after allowing a two-out single to Jeter. Giambi followed Rodriguez with an RBI double to right.
Bengie Molina hit a solo homer in the seventh for the Angels, who captured their second straight AL West crown a week earlier and won 14 of their final 16 games.
The Angels lost the opener of all three series when they won the franchise’s only World Series championship in 2002.
“Obviously, it wasn’t by design then and it’s not by design now,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’re going to do what we need to do. We have to keep playing our game and we’ve obviously got to do a little bit better job offensively. They jumped us early and they pitched well after that.”
Mussina, sidelined most of last month with inflammation near his elbow, struck out four and gave up five hits in 5 2-3 innings. The right-hander pitched three years to the day after allowing four runs in four innings of a 9-6 loss to the Angels, who rallied from a five-run deficit in Game 3 of their first-round series and went on to win 3-1. The Angels advanced to beat San Francisco in the World Series.
“It was great to see him come out and throw with the stuff he had today,” Cashman said. “Obviously, when he’s right, he’s very, very difficult, so thankfully he was right on today.”
Setup man Tom Gordon got four outs, and 39-year-old lefty Al Leiter also helped out of the bullpen, striking out Erstad in the seventh. Rivera worked the ninth to extend his major league record to 33 postseason saves in 37 opportunities.
Jeter, playing two days after bruising his right knee on a headfirst slide into second against Boston, reached base in his 21st straight division series game with a single in the second.
Both teams finished 95-67, with the Angels earning home-field advantage after winning six of 10 meetings this season with New York, in its 11th straight playoffs. The Angels are the only team with a winning record (49-48) against the Yankees since Joe Torre became New York’s manager in 1996.
This Yankees team spent the fewest days in first place (20) of any New York first-place club. The 1978 Yankees won the division after spending only 23 days atop the AL East. New York was in sole possession of first place for nine days this year.
When Los Angeles got a pair of two-out hits of its own in the second, the Angels couldn’t capitalize when Adam Kennedy—who homered off Mussina in the 2002 division series—flied out.
Starting with Kennedy’s out, Mussina retired 12 of his final 14 batters.
Mussina improved to 3-4 in postseason series openers. … The Yankees batted .233 with two outs and runners in scoring position this year. … Cano had 40 hits in September and batted .381 with five homers and 16 RBIs. … The Angels’ 95 wins this year were the most by any of the organization’s five division champions. The club won 99 games as the AL wild-card team in 2002.