It came on a bittersweet night for New York. The Yankees were eliminated from postseason contention when the Red Sox defeated the Indians at Fenway Park, officially ending the Yankees' string of 13 consecutive playoff appearances.
"You play 162 games and the best teams make it -- the hottest team wins," said Derek Jeter, who was scratched from the lineup with a sore left hand. "We weren't one of the best teams. With 162 games, there's no flukes. The teams that make it to the postseason deserve to be there."
But the Yankees will have at least one thing left to play for. With one start remaining in the regular season, Mussina will have a chance on Sunday in Boston to secure -- at age 39 -- what would be the first 20-win season of his 18-year Major League career.
The right-hander was struck in the right elbow by a third-inning line drive from Jays designated hitter Travis Snider, immediately drawing manager Joe Girardi and head trainer Gene Monahan to the mound.
Monahan gripped Mussina's right forearm and advised the pitcher not to throw, but Mussina stated his case to at least make an attempt. When Mussina threw a fastball and a curveball over the plate, he was cleared to continue and at least try to get the remaining eight outs to qualify for the win.
Thirteen stellar summers
|The Yankees' year-by-year records and postseason results from their 13-season run as playoff participants:|
|2007||94-68||Lost to Indians in ALDS|
|2006||97-65||Lost to Tigers in ALDS|
|2005||95-67||Lost to Angels in ALDS|
|2004||101-61||Lost to Red Sox in ALCS|
|2003||101-61||Lost to Marlins in World Series|
|2002||103-58||Lost to Angels in ALDS|
|2001||95-65||Lost to D-backs in World Series|
|2000||87-74||Beat Mets in World Series|
|1999||98-64||Beat Braves in World Series|
|1998||114-48||Beat Padres in World Series|
|1997||96-66||Lost to Indians in ALDS|
|1996||92-70||Beat Braves in World Series|
|1995||79-65||Lost to Mariners in ALDS|
With his elbow growing stiffer each minute, Mussina hung on long enough to scatter four hits and struck out six in a 73-pitch effort, walking none. He took himself out of the game after five innings, descending the dugout steps and telling Girardi he didn't think he should go on.
"I'm extremely proud of what he did tonight," Girardi said. "His arm had seam marks. It had skin taken off of it. It's about as bad as you can get hit without coming out of the game."
Mussina has had a close call at 20 before, in 1996 with the Orioles. He had 19 wins after beating the Tigers on Sept. 7 with four starts left to go, but was rapped the White Sox, Yankees and Brewers in succession.
It came down to a Sept. 28 start at Toronto, and Mussina pitched a gem, leaving after eight innings leading, 2-1. Mussina placed his 20th win in the hands of Armando Benitez, who recorded the first out before serving up a game-tying home run to Ed Sprague.
The Orioles eventually won the game in extra innings, but Mussina has not been able to get this close since. Should his swollen elbow not permit him to pitch at Fenway Park, Mussina insisted he would not be crushed.
"I'd probably be a little disappointed, but because of that game, I've been closer than this," Mussina said. "That was three outs away; this is a whole game."
By the time Mussina greeted reporters in the clubhouse, he found he was unable to touch his shoulder blade with his fingers. Yet Mussina left the impression that he would do everything possible to be standing on the mound in Boston come Sunday, even filling out ticket requests as he discussed the start.
Facing a quite effective Jesse Litsch, New York moved ahead in the second inning as Jason Giambi singled, moved up on Xavier Nady's double and scored on a Robinson Cano groundout. Giambi would pad the advantage in the fourth when he connected for his 32nd home run of the year, a solo shot off Litsch.
Litsch struck out a career-high eight in the effort, but a third run scored in the seventh when a Litsch offering got away from catcher Gregg Zaun for a passed ball, allowing Cano to slide in safely just ahead of the pitcher's tag.
From there, Mussina would need a little help from his friends in the bullpen -- 12 outs worth, as it happened.
"With 162 games, there's no flukes. The teams that make it to the postseason deserve to be there."
-- Derek Jeter
Rested from the off-day following Sunday's festivities at Yankee Stadium, four relievers -- Phil Coke, Brian Bruney, Damaso Marte and Joba Chamberlain -- held the Blue Jays to one run, getting the ball to Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning.
The big spot came in the eighth inning, when Chamberlain found himself in a bases-loaded, two-out jam, but froze Lyle Overbay looking at a called third strike to escape the situation.
"I gave those guys a lot of outs to get," Mussina said. "They've been throwing the ball really well when I come out of games. I can't win 19 games without those guys pitching behind me."
Rivera did what he has done all season, nailing down his 38th save in 39 opportunities as New York won for the ninth time in 11 games. But as he did so, the images beamed from Fenway Park showed the Red Sox preparing to celebrate, a sure sign that the Yankees' long hopes had been dashed.
"It's hard -- obviously, it's not the way we wanted the season to end," Girardi said. "It's unfortunate those games in Boston aren't going to mean something, but I think Derek Jeter said it perfectly Sunday -- this uniform stands for pride and tradition. That's how you play the next five days."