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Moose ready to make tracks in Game 5

Moose ready to make tracks in Game 5

NEW YORK -- When the Yankees boarded their charter flight from California to New York after Game 2 of the American League Division Series in Anaheim, they did so without Mike Mussina.

The winner of Game 1, in which he held the Angels to five hits without a walk over 5 2/3 shutout innings, Mussina stayed in Southern California with Mike Bozello, New York's bullpen catcher.

The idea was to spare Mussina the two cross-country flights required of everyone else should the series return to the West Coast, allowing him to stay on something of a normal throwing schedule in preparation for starting Game 5.

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The Yankees' season-saving victory in Game 4 on Sunday ensured that Mussina will be reunited with his teammates on Monday at Angel Stadium -- and saved the team's brass from an almost certain round of second-guessing.

When Game 4 was postponed by rain Saturday, it was duly noted that if Mussina were in town, he could have started on regular rest Sunday. New York pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, though, had no regrets.

"If there's a Game 5, he's the guy I want to be on the mound," Stottlemyre said of Mussina. "I think it was the smart thing to do."

It certainly looks smart now. Mussina, who battled an elbow strain and inconsistency late in the season, should be plenty strong for Monday with an extra day of rest. And he should have plenty of confidence coming off his strong showing in Game 1, which helped erase the unpleasant memories of his previous postseason start against the Angels.

In Game 3 of the 2002 ALDS in Anaheim, Mussina gave up four runs on six hits in four innings and had to leave the game with a groin injury. The Yankees lost that game and Game 4, ending their season.

Monday will mark the fifth time Mussina has faced the Angels this year, and he's fared considerably better in Anaheim. On April 27, he gave up five runs on 10 hits in seven innings in a loss at Yankee Stadium. On July 24 at Angel Stadium, he gave up a run on seven hits over 6 1/3 innings to pick up a win. He pitched fairly well five days later in New York, giving up three runs over eight innings, but he took another loss as the Yankees fell, 4-1.

"When you get to this point, it doesn't matter whether you start at home or on the road," Mussina said before the series started. "The bases are the same, the mound is the same distance from the plate. The only difference is that most of the people in the stands are rooting for them instead of rooting for us.

"You have to be able to do both. You can't just be able to pitch at home. You have to be able to go out on the road and win games if you want to win this thing, and that's what we're looking to do."

Yankees manager Joe Torre wouldn't reveal where Mussina and Bozello were staying in SoCal, but noted that he's been in regular contact with Mussina and likes what he'd heard.

"Mike is very responsible," Torre said. "I'm not really concerned about the fact that he'll be ready to pitch."

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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