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Mussina looking like an All-Star in win

Mussina looking like an All-Star in win

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NEW YORK -- If Mike Mussina had his choice of where to spend a three-day July vacation, chances are that he'd drive home to the tiny town of Montoursville, Pa., far enough away from all of New York's hustle to enjoy a deep, relaxing breath.

But the more he pitches this season, the more he may be closing that 72-hour window. Mussina hurled six solid innings to lead the Yankees to a 5-1 victory over the Blue Jays on Wednesday, earning his ninth win and strengthening his unlikely candidacy for the American League All-Star team.

"It's funny how things happen," Mussina said. "This game is a great game, and it's a frustrating game. It's a strange game, all at the same time. A lot of people assumed that my best stuff was behind me."

Mussina won for the third consecutive start and the eighth time in nine efforts, blanking the Jays for the first five innings before leaving a curveball up to Scott Rolen on his 100th pitch of the evening.

Rolen's sixth-inning RBI double would be the only blip on Mussina's record, and with a balanced offensive attack from the Yankees' lineup and three scoreless innings out of the bullpen, New York ended its three-game losing streak and finished the night once again a game below .500 at 29-30.

In a season in which their starting pitching has by and large faltered, where would the Yankees be without Mussina?

More than 31 percent of New York's victories have gone into the box score with a "W" next to the 39-year-old's name. All this from a pitcher who was so lost last August, he found himself banished to the bullpen and written off in the minds of many outside the clubhouse.

"A lot of people talked about his velocity not being what it once was, but he's got control of his other pitches, better this year than any year I've seen him pitch," said shortstop Derek Jeter. "He throws four or five different pitches in pretty much different spots. He's kept us in most of the games he's pitched, but today might have been as good as I've seen him."

Jeter had himself a pretty impressive night -- his RBI single in the third inning opened the scoring and gave him 2,416 hits for his career. He passed Mickey Mantle for third place on the Yankees' all-time hits list, but he seemed much more at ease lauding Mussina.

"He's been as consistent as anyone on this pitching staff," Jeter said. "People may not have expected it, but I'm sure he expects a lot out of himself. He's really made that transition from throwing 92 or 93 [mph] to the upper 80s. His other pitches are so good, he doesn't need to throw hard."

Mussina struck out a season-high six batters, limiting the Blue Jays to one run while scattering five hits and walking one, retiring 15 of the final 17 batters he faced.

Saying that he feels a barometer of a pitcher having a good year is to win half the games he starts, Mussina is already well ahead of schedule. He didn't log his ninth win last season until Sept. 12.

"I've had some breaks, I've got to admit," he said. "I've come out of a few games either tied or behind, and we scored some runs that half-inning and got me the lead. The bullpen was great after that, and we hung on and won.

"But for the most part, I feel pretty good about the fact that I've been able to keep us in games. Except for a game here or there, I've been in the last part of the game most of the time I go out there."

One night after the Yankees' relievers were asked to soak up 20 outs following Joba Chamberlain's starting debut, a trio of bullpen arms was more than up to the task of retiring nine hitters.

Ross Ohlendorf took over an inning after Mussina left the field to a shower of Moose calls, and Kyle Farnsworth pitched a scoreless eighth before Mariano Rivera polished off the Blue Jays in a 1-2-3 ninth, striking out two.

It was a complete team effort, as five Yankees drove in runs, including Johnny Damon, who extended his hit streak to 13 games with a single in the first inning, and in the sixth inning knocked in New York's fourth run to chase Toronto starter Jesse Litsch.

"It's nice to see everyone participate," manager Joe Girardi said.

Wilson Betemit -- playing first base with Jason Giambi guarding a sore right foot -- added to the Yankees' lead with a solo home run, his second of the season, with two outs in the fourth. Melky Cabrera followed later in the inning with a run-scoring single to right, scoring Robinson Cano, who had doubled.

Damon knocked in an additional run with a single off reliever Shawn Camp in the sixth, closing the book on Litsch. The right-hander allowed four runs on 10 hits, walking two and striking out one in 5 1/3 innings.

But the clear story of the night was Mussina, who shrugged off any thoughts of the All-Star Game by reminding reporters that the team wasn't selected on Wednesday. Still, should he keep throwing up zeros and displaying a renewed approach on the mound, Montoursville may have to do without him.

"Granted, I don't throw the ball 90 mph anymore, and I know that," he said. "I still know how to pitch, and I still have a pretty good idea of what I want to do. As long as I can go out there and do it, I can be successful."

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

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