Having lost the first two games of the series to the Angels, baseball's winningest club so far, the Yankees needed a victory to avoid a lost weekend. Mussina (14-7) delivered, retiring the final 16 batters he faced while the Bombers blasted Jered Weaver for four home runs in five-plus innings.
"Team-wise, it's a pretty big deal," Mussina said. "We haven't looked very good for about a week now. We need to win ballgames, and these guys have always given us trouble. The guys looked like they were in it today, like everybody who put on the uniform thought it was an important game."
The backing helped Mussina win for the third time in four starts. The 39-year-old right-hander limited the Angels to two runs (one earned) on two hits, striking out five as he continues to reinvent himself in a resurgent campaign.
"I watched him in Baltimore a lot," said the Angels' Mark Teixeira, hitless in two at-bats with a walk against Mussina. "This guy was one of the best pitchers of the era. He was a different pitcher then. He threw harder, struck out a lot more guys. I enjoyed watching him as a kid, but I don't necessarily enjoy facing him."
In creating that unsettling experience, Mussina credited the help of catcher Jose Molina, who preferred to downplay his 3-for-3 performance at the plate and instead focus on what he could do defensively.
"He feels comfortable with me and I don't have a problem with anybody," Molina said. "You've got to understand that we have to win here. We don't need to lose any more games."
Asked why he and Mussina seem to click so well together, Molina offered: "Probably because we never talk."
Maybe talk is cheap, but Mussina had plenty of laudatory comments to make about his favorite Yankees batterymate.
"I think he's a great catcher," Mussina said. "He understands what's going on and he makes adjustments, the same way I'm making adjustments. He's a great target with great presentation. He makes every pitch look like it was where I wanted to throw it, even if it was a foot and a half off the target. He's just a natural at catching."
Lending their field to an assemblage of 72 former Yankees greats in a grand send-off for the ballpark's final year, the current roster did the stage proud and reminded a small sliver of why those past teams earned the moniker of "Bombers."
"We did what we're supposed to do -- score some runs," said Bobby Abreu, who homered in the third inning, his fourth home run in the last four games.
The afternoon did not start on a promising note for the Yankees, not with Weaver (9-9) striking out the first four he faced and Wilson Betemit throwing away a potential double-play ball to give the Angels an early 2-0 lead.
But Betemit atoned in the home half of the second inning by connecting for a two-run homer, his fifth, and Abreu added his 15th of the year with a solo shot that put New York up 4-2 in the third, after Derek Jeter grounded into a run-scoring double play.
The power display continued with Molina chipping in with his first home run of the season to lead off the fifth, clanging a solo shot off the left-field foul pole to end a 221 at-bat streak without a home run. Alex Rodriguez joined the party in the sixth with his 24th, a solo shot to left-center field.
"We don't really try to hit homers," Abreu said. "Of course, we do have power, but we've been scoring a lot of runs with doubles and singles, especially balls in the gap. That's the way that we start rallies. We don't usually start rallies with homers."
That was close to the end for Weaver, who lasted one more batter and left trailing by four runs, on the hook for six runs and eight hits, walking one and striking out five. Justin Speier gave up two more runs in the seventh to close out scoring.
Mussina probably could have gone deeper into the game, but manager Joe Girardi elected to end his afternoon at 89 pitches, sending him to a six-out waiting period to collect the victory.
Jose Veras struck out three around a walk in the eighth inning and Brian Bruney was eased into duty in the ninth inning, appearing in a Major League game for the first time since he tore the Lisfranc ligament in his right foot on April 22 in Chicago. Bruney allowed a hit and a walk in a scoreless 20-pitch inning.
"It almost felt like my first appearance of the year," Bruney said. "I've been off three months, but everything felt good. My foot's fine, the arm felt good, and it's good to get a win."