Notes: Mussina to return Thursday

Notes: Mussina to return Thursday

NEW YORK -- As the Yankees have moved into prime position for the postseason, led by inspiring moments and surprising successes, Mike Mussina has been but a spectator.

Now that the right-hander appears ready to rejoin the fight for October, ending what was nearly a month-long absence with an inflamed elbow, one mission continues to run through his mind -- just keep the momentum going.

"You don't want to do anything that hurts our chances," Mussina said. "I want to be in the mix, and, obviously, I want to contribute. We've done some nice things; I don't want to mess it up."

Mussina threw his fourth bullpen session on Monday -- firing pitches at an estimated 60 to 70 percent of his usual velocity -- and he reported no discomfort to Yankees trainers on Tuesday.

"It's much better. It's not even close," he said.

That was the final thumbs-up needed to put Mussina -- who last pitched on Aug. 29 -- back on the hill. Mussina is slated to pitch for his 13th victory on Thursday against Baltimore.

Exactly how Mussina fits into the rotation equation is unclear. Yankees manager Joe Torre said he didn't feel inclined to go with six starting pitchers down the stretch, citing the fact that hurlers tend to treasure their normal days of rest and operate as creatures of habit.

Should Torre come back and tell Mussina that his place beyond Thursday could be in the bullpen, Mussina promised to take it in stride. Like fellow starter Al Leiter, who volunteered for bullpen work, Mussina said his eye is fixed solely on the prize of postseason ball.

"The only thing that concerns me," Mussina said, "is that I don't want to go out there and only give us three or four good innings, and put pressure on the bullpen.

"There's no way to know until it happens."

With Mussina inserted to pitch against the Orioles, Shawn Chacon's start has been pushed back to Friday against the Blue Jays. Jaret Wright appears on track to start Saturday, Torre said.

Good night, our hero: Contrary to what you might think, Bubba Crosby slept just fine after his game-winning home run Monday.

After riding the subway home -- and being congratulated by sharp-eyed Yankees fans -- the 29-year-old said he stayed up late to watch the YES Network's replay of the game, reliving the long ball that launched the Yankees to a 3-2 win, before finally dozing off.

"I was so emotionally and physically drained," Crosby said.

The home run put the Yankees within a half-game of first place when the Red Sox lost later Monday night, which could make it a milestone moment for the Yankees' unsung hero.

"Most of the singers are on the DL," Torre joked. "The ones that are unsung are out there playing."

It'll be a career highlight for the little-used outfielder, his family and friends, several of whom called late Monday and early Tuesday to express their congratulations.

Watching the replay on TV, Crosby said he'd also picked up details that had been lost in the commotion of the moment.

"I didn't realize [there were] quite a few hands I shook," Crosby said. "I didn't see exactly where [the homer] went, for the most part. It's funny to have so much adrenaline and be on a natural high that you don't even understand the things you do."

Crosby was back in right field again Tuesday, filling in defensively for Gary Sheffield, who continues to nurse a strained left thigh. Sheffield tested the injury on Monday and said he felt better, but he continued to serve as the designated hitter.

"You never know," Crosby said. "You just always make sure you're prepared."

At first glance: With a combination of a Yankees victory and a Red Sox loss Tuesday, New York would be back in sole possession of first place for just the third day this season.

The Yankees last held a grip on first place on July 18, following an 11-9 victory over the Rangers. They fell back to second place with a 2-1 loss to Texas the next day; the only other day the Yankees have been alone in first place was after New York's first game of the season, a 9-2 victory over Boston on April 3.

On deck: Randy Johnson will be back on the mound on Wednesday, and he will look to erase any bad memories from his second-inning ejection last Friday. The left-hander will take on Baltimore's Rodrigo Lopez in the third game of a four-game series, with the first pitch slated for 7:05 p.m. ET.

Bryan Hoch is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.