Mussina beats Astros, nets 10th win

Mussina beats Astros, nets 10th win

HOUSTON -- Mike Mussina is used to looking at his wins totals and seeing double digits there every season. Yet no one could have predicted he'd throw a 10 up there so soon.

Mussina overcame a rough opening to extend his personal run of success and defeat the Astros on Saturday at Minute Maid Park. Alex Rodriguez also homered in New York's 8-4 victory, moving the club three games above .500 for the first time all year.

Mussina's 260th career victory makes him the sixth pitcher in Major League history to record 10 or more wins in 17 consecutive seasons. He will undoubtedly receive heavy consideration to represent the American League All-Star team next month at Yankee Stadium. If he does, the veteran right-hander's accomplishment would only help his interesting case for enshrinement in Cooperstown.

"It means I've been out there every year, and it means I haven't been hurt significantly," Mussina said. "People believe that I can get people out and win ballgames, and they keep sending me out there. Seventeen years is a long time."

In fact, as Mussina dryly remarked, he didn't just stop at 10. Mussina's next victory will equal his season low over that span, which started ticking in 1992 with the Baltimore Orioles.

"I actually made it to 11, like Spinal Tap," Mussina said.

The names of the pitchers who have accomplished what Mussina has represents a rarified slice of big league history: Steve Carlton, Greg Maddux, Warren Spahn, Don Sutton and Cy Young.

"It's got to be an amazing feeling to know that you've been so consistent for so long," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You've been able to give your club quality start after quality start. You think about 17 years in a row -- that's a long time. Moose works hard, and that's why he's able to do that."

After the struggles that Mussina endured at the tail end of the '07 campaign, his thoughts were more focused on staying in the rotation than running off the type of success that he has appreciated this season. Saturday's victory was Mussina's ninth in his past 11 starts.

"No one ever sees a stretch like this," Mussina said. "You don't run them off like that very often, so you never see that stuff coming. You just want to be consistent and pitch well and get into the second half of the game. I've been pretty much doing what I wanted to do."

"He's actually moving the ball away from lefties and into righties, and that's been a big difference," Rodriguez said. "He's throwing a two-seamer that, at times, moves a foot. His breaking ball has always been the same and very effective, but he's using his fastball as more of a strikeout tool."

Mussina's journey to double digits started in unorthodox fashion, as Astros slugger Carlos Lee belted a long three-run homer, his 14th, to put the Yankees in an early first-inning hole and fire up the train that runs on the isolated track above the left-field wall.

The Yankees struck back with five runs against left-hander Wandy Rodriguez. A-Rod clubbed a solo shot to right, his 11th, with some fan assistance in the second inning, and Jason Giambi and Melky Cabrera followed with back-to-back doubles to bring home New York's second run.

Houston's Rodriguez created a mess with a single and two walks (one intentional) in the third inning, and the Yankees cleaned up with three runs, powered by Cabrera's bases-loaded, four-pitch walk and Jose Molina's two-run double. Rodriguez was finished after the fifth, scattering six hits in all.

That was enough for Mussina, who blanked Houston over his final five frames, scattering six hits while walking none and striking out four. The Astros brought the game within one run in the seventh inning facing reliever Ross Ohlendorf, as Michael Bourn reached on a one-out single and scored when Brad Ausmus doubled down the left-field line.

But pinch-hitter Robinson Cano snapped an 0-for-17 skid with a much-needed RBI single facing Geoff Geary in the eighth, and Wilson Betemit's two-run double in the ninth opened up breathing room. That made it safe for Mussina, who could exhale and appreciate his accomplishment after Kyle Farnsworth and Edwar Ramirez recorded the last six outs.

Mussina becomes the second 10-game winner in the AL, joining Arizona's Brandon Webb (11) and Cleveland's Cliff Lee (10) as the only other big league pitchers with wins in double digits. To Johnny Damon, Mussina's accomplishments over the long haul should influence many observers into considering his career in a broader scope.

"Being able to do it in the American League East when the Blue Jays won twice and the Yankees won four times and the Red Sox have won twice," Damon said. "Some pretty good teams have won the World Series coming out of this division, and he's been able to pile up some wins with minimal losses."

In the here and now, Mussina has been a major reason why the Yankees have made it back above .500. Girardi said that Red Sox manager Terry Francona has his blessing if he wants to use Mussina in the Bronx for the All-Star Game, and Mussina -- last an All-Star in 1999 -- said that would be "great."

After that, who knows? At age 39, Mussina is having a walk year to remember, quieting his critics and opening the possibility that maybe -- just maybe -- there's another 10-win season left in his mechanically-sound right arm.

"I'm just enjoying what I'm doing right now, and not worrying about what's going to come up at the end of the year and what decisions have to be made," Mussina said. "I've got 3 1/2 more months of baseball to go here -- hopefully more. We'll make all of those other decisions when the time comes."

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