The Red Sox won Game One of their double-header today 3-1. It was a swift, low-scoring affair that took just 2 hours and 23 minutes to play and was dominated by pitching, particularly the pitching of Tim Wakefield (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 6 K), who didn’t allow a hit through the first four innings. All three Red Sox runs were driven in by Boston’s Big Boys, two by David Ortiz (1 for 4, 2B, 2Ks) and one by Manny Ramirez (1 for 2, IBB, HBP, throwing error). Meanwhile, the Blue Jays wasted the solid pitching of Dave Bush and Dustin McGowan by stranding runners in scoring position in the eighth and ninth against Jon Papelbon and Mike Timlin.
And with that, the Red Sox and Yankees are again tied atop the AL East. Of course. You didn’t actually think the Yankees would get any breathing room, did you? Still, for those in a state of panic over what awaits the Yankees in the coming week, consider this: The Yankees only need to win five games to make the postseason. That’s it. Just five.
Of course, there are only six games left in the season, but if the Yankees win five of them, there is no way the Red Sox can beat them. Of course, part of the reason for that is that a minimum of two of those wins will have to come against the Sox this weekend (if the Yanks sweep the O’s they’ll enter that series no worse than tied and can win the division by taking two of three in Boston, if they drop just one game to the O’s, they can still win the division by sweeping the Sox as they’ll be no worse than a game out come Friday morning). Yes, that sounds daunting when you spell out how those five wins would have to be acquired, but when you think about it as just five wins, five of six for a team that has won 13 of their last 15, it doesn’t sound so bad.
Tonight the Yankees look to drop that quasi-magic number (their actual magic number is seven, but any Yankee win against the Sox would take two off of that as it represents any combination of Yankee wins and Red Sox loses that totals seven) to four by sending Mike Mussina back to the hill against Bruce Chen. Last Thursday, Mussina came off the unofficial disabled list to pitch six efficient innings allowing just one unearned run on four hits and no walks while striking out six men. It was the ideal outing for Moose coming off the elbow inflammation that shut him down for more than three weeks. He threw just 76 pitches, 76 percent of which were strikes, mixing in his full repertoire, getting his fastball up to 91 and a nice break on his knucklecurve.
Chen, meanwhile, cruised through the first four innings, retiring twelve straight men after a Derek Jeter lead-off single and a Bernie Castro error started the first. Jorge Posada then led off the fifth with a solo homer and capped a four-run Yankee rally in the sixth with a three-run dinger that drove Chen from the game. Still, it’s worth remembering that, prior to that start, Chen had turned in eight quality start in his nine outings since returning to the Oriole rotation after a brief tune-up in the bullpen in late July, and had posted a 1.84 ERA with a 0.92 WHIP in those nine starts combined.
Mussina reported no discomfort following his bullpen session on Saturday. Obviously, the Yankees hope he will be able to build on last week’s start, stretching out his pitch count in anticipation of Sunday’s season finale against Curt Schilling and the Red Sox. Having Mussina back at full strength would be a tremendous boon to the Yankees playoff hopes. On his career, Mussina has a 2.90 ERA in September, his best mark in any single month save his 0.95 ERA in five regular season October starts (Sunday is October 2). Separating out the past three seasons (2002-2004) that September ERA improves to 2.50. Moose also has a career 3.16 ERA in the postseason, nearly a half-run better than his career ERA during the regular season. This is his time of year, and it’s great to see him back in action. Here’s hoping I still feel that way after the last out of tonight’s game.