Mussina keeps Yanks' streaks going

Mussina keeps Yankees streaking

NEW YORK -- After Mike Mussina's 69-mph changeup sailed past Brendan Harris' swinging bat and reached catcher Jose Molina's glove for an inning-ending strikeout in the seventh, a satisfied Molina flicked the ball up with a backspin. It was a small celebration, not a serious attempt to recreate Mussina's slight movement.

Because such imitation would be impossible. It was authentic, vintage Mussina in the Yankees' 5-1 win against the visiting Twins on Wednesday afternoon. Mussina was in total control of his pitches and the opposing hitters during his eight shutout innings. And on the previously mentioned strikeout, one of his seven in the game -- this one on a full count -- he showed it.

He hadn't thrown a changeup in two games.

"Just 'cause," Mussina said of the reasoning behind the pitch. "He called for it, and I said, 'Hey, good idea,' and shoom."

The Yankees extended their home win steak to 10 games and sealed their second straight series sweep, this one ending with Mussina allowing six hits -- in only one inning did the Twins manage two hits -- and walking none. Mussina leads the Majors with only 16 walks in 121 1/3 innings, and he hasn't walked a batter in three consecutive starts.

"Without Moose, I don't know where we'd be," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's been the leader on the staff. Each start, it almost seems like he's getting better and better."

After four scoreless innings, New York (56-45) created a cushion with five runs on six hits over the fifth and sixth innings, which was plenty for Mussina (13-6), who earned the victory.

The Yankees tallied two runs in the fifth, an inning that could've ended sooner -- and scoreless -- if Twins second baseman Alexi Casilla hadn't forgotten how many outs there were. Jose Molina hit a grounder to third baseman Brendan Harris with one out. Harris threw to Casilla, who stepped on second base and started running toward the dugout as if the inning was over instead of throwing to first for the double play.

Afterward, Minnesota starter Glen Perkins showed his frustration with Casilla when he held up his index finger to remind him of the missed double-play opportunity. The next batter, Justin Christian, brought home Robinson Cano and Molina with a double to left that put New York ahead, 2-0.

"We talked about coming in here, if you make a mistake, they kill you," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "That's what we did the whole series."

Perkins weakened as the game progressed, and in the sixth, the Yankees tagged him for two runs on a double by Alex Rodriguez, who drove in Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu. Perkins (7-3) suffered the loss and left the game after the inning, having surrendered five runs, six hits and one walk.

Although the Twins (55-46) notched one run and three hits in the ninth off reliever LaTroy Hawkins, he gave way to Mariano Rivera with two outs, and the closer picked up his 25th save in as many opportunities with a strikeout.

Yes, it sealed the victory -- the Yankees' sixth straight -- and placed the team a season-high 11 games above .500 heading into three-game series with the Red Sox in Boston beginning Friday, but the more important strikeout was an inning earlier, with two outs and a runner on second and Mussina near his end.

Giardi visited the mound.

"He really didn't say much," Mussina recalled. "I kind of said, 'What are you doing here?' I said, 'Are you afraid of 100 pitches?' Because I turned and looked at the scoreboard and it said 99. I said, 'Are you afraid of 100?'

"He said, 'What, you want to pitch to this guy?' I said, 'Yeah, let's go. Get out of here.' He said, 'All right.'

"That was it."

Willie Bans is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.