"It's great to see him smile," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said on Thursday. "He has been smiling, but it's a different smile when it's a productive smile."
There were postgame smiles all around the home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium on Thursday after Cano and Jason Giambi, who haven't had many chances to display productive smiles, delivered big hits in a 6-3 victory over the Indians that enabled the Yankees to get on their way to Detroit in an upbeat mood with an 18-18 record after a 4-5 homestand.
Cano and Giambi had plenty of company in a win that salvaged one victory in the three-game series. Mike Mussina had to work hard, but managed to pitch five innings to win his fourth straight start and improve to 5-3 with the 255th victory of his career. Relievers Ross Ohlendorf, a rebounding Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera combined to hold the Indians to two hits over four innings. Johnny Damon provided the spark offensively from the top spot in the batting order, and Wilson Betemit made a rare offensive contribution with his first home run this season.
"It was good to win the last game of the series and avoid the sweep," said Mussina, who ran out of gas in a 35-pitch fifth inning in which the Indians tied the game with three runs after the Yankees had taken a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth.
"The guys came out today and took some good swings," Mussina said. "They hit the ball into the stands, Johnny dumped the ball down the left-field line and we did what it takes to win a ballgame today.
"The bullpen was great. Ohlendorf came in for two solid innings. Joba looked like Joba. Mo looked like Mo. You want the starter to go a little deeper, but other than that, we played a pretty solid game."
Girardi and Mussina were especially elated to see a big contribution from Cano, the second baseman who began play with a .160 batting average, just three homers and nine RBIs. Cano had just his third multi-hit game this season, was aggressive on the bases and smacked a solo home run.
"I think it was important for him mentally," said Girardi, who knows the Yankees need major contributions from players like Cano and Giambi while major offensive stars such as Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are sidelined with injuries.
Damon, who had gone hitless in nine at-bats in the first two games of the series, led off the bottom of the fourth with a home run to right field off losing pitcher Paul Byrd (1-3). Hideki Matsui, who had extended his career-best hitting streak to 17 games with a single in the second inning, lined a two-out single to center. Giambi, who hit two homers off Byrd in a loss in Cleveland on April 25, slammed a first-pitch, two-run homer that he willed to stay fair as it hurled toward the upper deck in right field to give New York a 3-0 lead.
"When you keep your hands inside, you don't get that hook," Girardi said. "That means your swing is right."
The lead didn't last long. Mussina, who threw 51 pitches and gave up one hit over the first four innings, hit the first batter he faced in the fifth. Thirty-four pitches later, he walked off the mound with the score tied at 3.
But Cano led off the bottom of the fifth with a hard shot past first base and down the right-field line. He ran hard and barely beat the throw to second for the double. He moved to third on a flyout by Betemit and scored the go-ahead run when Damon flared a ball down the left-field line for a double.
Cano lined a home run to right with one out in the seventh that ended Byrd's work day.
"The only problem I've had is getting two hits in one game," Cano said. "Every day I see the ball good. My luck was much better today. I contributed to win a game."
Betemit greeted reliever Masa Kobayashi with a long home run to center.
"Getting Robbie Cano going again, that's big for us,'' Mussina mused afterward. "If he's going to hit .160 all year, we are going to struggle, even if Alex and Jorge were playing. Giambi contributed again today. Two of the guys who have been struggling played pretty big roles today. There were a lot of contributions."
Mussina said it's important that Cano carry on hitting in Detroit.
"The first five or six weeks of this season have been a struggle for him," said Mussina, who fought his own demons in an injury-riddled 2007 season. "Hopefully he can get a couple of games out there and start to feel better at the plate. If he goes out and has a good solid week or two weeks, he can be right back to the same Robbie he was before, and all those struggles can be left behind."
Kind of like Mussina left his troubles behind?
"Similar to that," said Mussina, showing his productive smile. "Only he's 25, or whatever, and I'm not."
Kit Stier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.