After he was worked for 28 pitches and one run in the first inning, the right-hander shut down the White Sox offense, retiring 10 straight batters spanning the second and fifth innings. And in the meantime, the Yankees lineup unloaded for seven runs to put Mussina in line for the victory.
But instead of pulling him after the sixth inning, manager Joe Girardi made a move based on the suggestion of pitching coach Dave Eiland and sent Mussina back to the mound.
He faced one batter before Girardi took his starter out. Mussina left to a chorus of "Moose" calls and tipped his cap to the crowd as he walked off the field at Yankee Stadium for the final time.
"Moose is a historian, and he loves this game, and I think for him to have an opportunity to do that was really special," Girardi said.
In his last outing at the Cathedral, the veteran picked up his 18th win as the Yankees routed the White Sox, 9-2, Thursday night, and the crowd showed its gratitude.
"It's a lot of fun when you've played well and had a good year and people appreciate it," Mussina said. "I'm glad they let me go out there and face one guy. It was really nice. It was the last time I'm going to pitch here. It's tough to describe when you're walking off the field and that many people appreciate what you're able to do. I won the last game I pitched at Yankee Stadium, so it was worth tipping my hat."
With two scheduled starts remaining in the regular season, Mussina's possibility for the first 20-win season of his career is still alive. But he continued to give the same response he has for weeks when asked if the achievement was important to him.
"Yeah, but I've got to win 19 first," Mussina (18-9) said. "The last ones are always the tough ones. It's just like ... getting the last three outs are the toughest three outs to get sometimes, and the last couple wins are sometimes the toughest."
No matter what the outcome of his last two starts turns out to be, his win Thursday gave him 268 for his career, tying him with friend Jim Palmer for 33rd place on baseball's all-time list.
"Being at 268, being next to him, is a pretty good place to be," Mussina said. "But if I happen to end on that number, I'm stuck with him at least until next year," he added, joking.
Bobby Abreu led the charge as the Yankees offense did all it could to provide the veteran pitcher with run support. Abreu slugged two homers, including a two-run blast to the right-field upper deck, and drove in six runs as the Bombers lit up the scoreboard.
"I feel so happy for Mussina, to throw a game like this," Abreu said. "We're trying to help the guy to get 20 wins. It's something we'd like to do. He deserves it. He's been giving pretty good support for the team and he was on the mound no matter what."
New York put heavy pressure on Chicago starter Javier Vazquez in the fourth inning. The lineup used patience at the plate as three batters reached via walks to load the bases before Derek Jeter ran out a ground ball for a base hit and an RBI. The offensive onslaught forced Vazquez (12-14) to exit after just 3 2/3 innings.
But the onslaught wasn't finished as New York tacked on three more runs off the White Sox bullpen before the end of the inning to take a commanding 7-1 lead. The Yankees (82-71) drew seven walks on the night.
And the wide scoring margin allowed Girardi to send reliever Humberto Sanchez and catcher Francisco Cervelli to the field to make their Major League debuts. The battery worked quickly as Sanchez retired the side in the eighth inning.
"It's always great when you get an opportunity to do that, and to see the young kids get in there for the first time," Girardi said. "I think it's important for players' development. I think it's a great motivating factor for players to have success here and understand that they can compete up here."
The Yankees could take numerous positives from Thursday's performance. With the finale win, New York took three of four from Chicago (84-68) and has started its final homestand at Yankee Stadium with two series wins against first-place teams. But despite the recent success, it cannot erase the earlier results that put the Yankees in the third-place position they find themselves in during the final weeks of the season.
"The disappointment of the year is always going to be there," Mussina said. "We're all out here trying to win as a group, win as a team and play well, and we haven't done that consistently this year. Today was a day where we got a couple breaks and played well. We got big hits, and we won a ballgame rather easily. It was an example today of the way we could've played all year, and it just didn't work out that way."
Samantha Newman is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.