NEW YORK (AP)—Mike Mussina entered this season almost an afterthought in the Yankees’ rotation, the old man on a staff of budding stars. What a difference four months makes.
Mussina walked off the Yankee Stadium mound Wednesday to rousing “Mooose!” calls from the sold-out crowd, having thrown eight economical innings in New York’s 5-1 win over the Minnesota Twins for their 10th straight home victory.
Last year “I physically couldn’t do what I wanted to do. The whole year was miserable,” Mussina said after giving up six hits without allowing a run.
“Today was probably a good day,” he said with a smirk.
Alex Rodriguez and Justin Christian each had two-run doubles and Richie Sexson had a sacrifice fly and 11 putouts and three assists at first base as the Yankees completed a 6-0, post-break homestand with sweeps of Oakland and the Twins.
“It starts with starting pitching, defense and timely hitting, and we’re getting all those now,” Rodriguez said.
The Yankees will try to continue the stellar play on the road, taking their mediocre 23-23 road record into Fenway Park in Boston for three games starting Friday.
The Twins did not get a runner past second base against Mussina (13-6) in losing their fourth straight game and dropping 2 1/2 games back of the White Sox in the AL Central.
“It was a disappointing ballgame. I don’t know how to describe it,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Our trip here was not very good. We played terrible baseball pretty much all the way through it.”
The 39-year-old Mussina retired 14 of the first 17 batters and, for the third straight start, didn’t walk a batter. He has given up just five runs in his past five starts and now has 263 career wins.
But while they went a combined 0-7 for the Yankees before going down with injuries, Mussina has emerged as the team’s most consistent pitcher.
“You could really make a good case, without Moose I don’t know where we would be,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
LaTroy Hawkins gave up three hits, including Mike Lamb’s RBI single in the ninth, before giving way to Mariano Rivera. The closer struck out pinch-hitter Jason Kubel with runners on second and third for his 25th save.
The 10-game winning streak at home is the Yankees’ longest since Sept. 9, 1998, to April 14, 1999. The last time New York won 10 in a row at Yankee Stadium in a single season was July 26-Aug. 14, 1998.
“We did a real nice job during this homestand,” Girardi said. “It’s been a real nice stretch for us.”
A big part of New York’s recent success is the re-emergence of Robinson Cano, who went 2-for-4 and was in the middle of yet another Yankees scoring opportunity.
Hitting .560 since working on his swing with his father in the Dominican Republic during the All-Star break, Cano singled in the fifth and scored on Christian’s two-run double down the left-field line to give New York a 2-0 lead.
Christian got a turn to bat in the inning because Twins second baseman Alexi Casilla lost track of the outs, and instead of trying to turn two with the slow-footed Jose Molina running to first he just got the force.
“Lexi made a mistake but that just cannot happen,” Gardenhire said. “That’s as routine a double play as can happen. You just throw the ball. Who was running?”
Perkins, who is considered one of the main reasons why Francisco Liriano’s agent has asked the union to investigate why his client has not been called up despite dominating Triple-A hitters for the past six weeks, gave up a season-high five runs on eight hits and a walk.
He gave up a double off the left-center wall to Rodriguez in the sixth that scored Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu, who ran through third base coach Bobby Meacham’s stop sign, and slid in just ahead of the relay that catcher Mike Redmond could not handle.
Rodriguez advanced on the throw and Sexson followed with his sacrifice fly to make it 5-0.
It was his defense that earned Sexson the most praise. He made several tough plays.
“Obviously when you’re 6-foot-12, you’re going to get a lot of balls,” Mussina said.
But Sexson returned the compliment, saying Mussina’s pinpoint control is the reason he played so well.
“It makes it easy to play defense when you see the catcher set up and he’s hitting his spots,” Sexson said.
There are 26 home games remaining at Yankee Stadium. The Twins are 3-19 in the Bronx since the start of the 2002 season. … Twins All-Star C Joe Mauer was given the day off. … The Twins have been swept five times this season.