Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Nothing Boring About This 12-4 Win

Mike Mussina had been feeling what he described as a “twinge” in his shoulder following his 86-pitch start last week, fresh off the disabled list. Originally scheduled for a Sunday start, he was pushed back for precautionary reasons. Still not 100 percent – though most players aren't at this time of year – Mussina took the mound last night against the fledgling Devil Rays, hoping to make progress towards a return to form by playoff time. His teammates had his back.

Fueled by El Comedulce's six RBI, Mussina's task transformed from the arduousness of pitching a Major League game to the ease of spinning batting practice. An additional three runs in the third really let Mussina relax and test his arsenal. Think of it as a glorified rehab start, though you can be more optimistic about the results since they came against (supposedly) Major League hitters. His next assignment will be a better indicator of where he stands, as he's scheduled to face the Red Sox on Sunday.

For the most part, I liked what I saw from Mussina. He had a few control issues here and there, but in the long run, his 87 pitches over six and a third is quite impressive. It sets him up nicely for Sunday, when he'll likely extend his workload to near 100 pitches. With two starts to follow that, he should be in fine shape for the playoffs, joining Wang and Randy as a formidable 1-2-3 punch.

The spotlight was spread out at Yankee Stadium last night. Even the stellar performances of Moose and Abreu couldn't steal all the attention from the Yankees Faithful, as Hideki Matsui returned to action emphatically. Following a bloop RBI single in the first, Matsui hammered a single to right to lead off the third. His swing was as beautiful as you'll find in baseball, graciously sweeping through the zone. Of course, one game isn't indicative of future success, but you have to feel good about a guy who goes 4-4 in his first game after nearly five baseball-free months. I'd say dormant months, but as we saw and read all summer, Hideki was everything but.

A little bit of envy flowed around the clubhouse yesterday, as Gary Sheffield preened on about his probable return this weekend. His mood swings make a pregnant woman seem tame, but you still have to be excited about the prospect of adding his killer bat to this lineup. It would be, just – I have to use the word here – unconscionable. My jaw dropped at the sight of last night's lineup, and to add Sheffield to the mix would be not only to further strengthen the lineup, but to make it deeper and more suited for a playoff run. Not that it's ill-suited at this point, or at any point this season. Hell, with a reliable pitching staff, the Yanks could have done it like they did in June and July.

With the Yanks up 12-0 after the third, I figured that Moose would toss five or six innings, dependent upon his pitch count. It was quite a surprise to see him come out for the seventh, though his low pitch count gave Torre good reason to give him the okay. T.J. Beam got some work in, and actually looked impressive this time around, recording five outs with only 13 pitches. However, he did come into the game with a runner on first, enabling him to induce the double play on two pitches. After hitting B.J. Upton to start the eighth, he plowed through the remaining Devil Rays.

The same can't be said for Octavio Dotel. There is simply no justification for allowing four freakin' runs in the ninth inning of a 12-0 game. Little to no chance exists at this point for his making the postseason roster. Further complicating matters is the Torre bullpen system, which will surely shut Dotel out of any games with a less than eight run difference. Maybe he can find a groove if the Yanks clinch home field, but judging by the hard evidence presented by his performance, I'm not at all convinced that's a real possibility. What it does, however, is further solidify Brian Bruney's spot.

I'd be a heathen if I didn't mention that Jeter's hit streak does, in fact, stay in tact. You have to record an official at bat in a game for a streak to be broken, and neither a walk nor a hit by pitch, Jeter's only results from last night, count. This would put an odd twist on any kind of extended streak, especially considering it would have to wrap over to next year.

Tonight, Cory Lidle gets a chance to redeem himself after a pitiful outing last Friday in Baltimore. I like Lidle, though I can't say I'd trust him pitching in a playoff series. Actually, should Jeff Karstens fare well against the Red Sox on Saturday, I might even be more trusting of him. Judging by his stuff, Karstens shouldn't be an overly reliable Major League starter, but he's young and basically unseen by most of the American League. Toss him against the A's and the Tigers (the Twins have seen him), and you might be able to catch lightning in a bottle.