"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," Mussina said. "Sure, I had doubts. I didn't know what I was going to get."
Fortunately for New York, it was the first one, as Mussina tossed 5 2/3 shutout innings to lead the Yankees to a 4-2 win in Game 1 at Angel Stadium.
"I expected something good from Mussina today," said Mariano Rivera, who threw the final pitch of the game to earn the 33rd postseason save of his career. "He was outstanding. He was ready for today, which didn't surprise me at all."
Mussina allowed just five hits, striking out four without issuing a walk. He improved to 4-2 with a 2.67 ERA in eight career ALDS starts, snapping a two-year losing streak in Game 1 of the first round.
Robinson Cano provided the offensive punch for the Bombers, as his three-run double against Bartolo Colon in the first gave the Yankees a lead they would never relinquish.
"Robbie's been very impressive all year," said Alex Rodriguez. "He's one of the biggest differences for this team compared to last year's team. He gives us a punch in the middle of the order."
The Yankees attacked Colon in the first, mounting an impressive, two-out rally against the Cy Young Award hopeful. Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui each singled to load the bases, setting up Cano's three-run double to deep left.
New York added a fourth run in the second, again doing damage with two outs. Derek Jeter singled, advanced to second when Colon drilled A-Rod over his rib cage, then scored on Giambi's double to right.
"When you have a guy like Bartolo on the ropes early, you have to capitalize," Rodriguez said. "Good pitchers, you have to get them in the first two or three innings or they'll find a good rhythm and they'll still be out there in the eighth."
With Randy Johnson unavailable to pitch the opener after going on Saturday in Boston, Torre felt it was a no-brainer to hold Mussina back for Game 1, even though his return from an elbow injury had produced one good start and one bad start.
"If Randy was available, obviously he probably would have gone there," Torre said. "We just felt that experience is so important, especially when you're opening on the road, and the fact that you want to at least give yourself a chance with a guy who has done it before."
Mussina rewarded Torre for his faith, showing signs of sharpness right away with an easy first inning.
"When we put three runs on the board early and Moose came out and shut the door in the first inning," Giambi said, "that was a big sign for us."
The Angels threatened in the second inning, putting runners at second and third on Juan Rivera's single and Steve Finley's ground-rule double. That Finley's hit bounced into the stands turned out to be important, as it prevented a potential triple and held Rivera up at third. Mussina got Adam Kennedy to fly out to left, stranding both runners.
"Rivera was going to score if the ball stays in play, and Finley might have ended up on third," Mussina said. "The key at-bat might have been getting Kennedy out, but the ball bouncing in the seats two minutes before that was a really big event in the game."
That was the first of seven consecutive batters retired by Mussina, but Colon settled in as well, sitting down eight of nine after Giambi's second-inning RBI double.
Mussina, who allowed the Angels' leadoff man to reach base just once in six innings, left the game with two outs in the sixth, as Torre brought Al Leiter in to face Darin Erstad with a man on first. Erstad never got a chance to put the ball in play, as Jorge Posada threw out Guerrero as he tried to steal second.
Colon lasted seven innings, posting zeros on the scoreboard in each of his final five. He took the loss, allowing four runs on eight hits and a walk, striking out six.
The Angels finally got on the board in the seventh, as Bengie Molina drilled a solo homer to center against Tanyon Sturtze with one out. Sturtze retired the next batter, then turned the ball over to Tom Gordon, who got the next four outs to carry the game to the ninth.
Mariano Rivera allowed a ninth-inning run to cut the lead to two, but he retired the final two batters -- each representing the tying run -- to nail down the victory.
Game 2 is scheduled for Wednesday night, as Chien-Ming Wang makes the first postseason start of his career. The Angels counter with John Lackey, who will need to hold off the Yankees' offense to avoid heading back to the Bronx down two games to none.
"A lot of guys in this room didn't care that we were starting on the road," Giambi said. "We were kind of happy about it, because we've played such great baseball on the road down the stretch. You always talk about getting a split when you go on the road, but hopefully we'll do more than that now."