Were the season to end right now, the Chicago White Sox would be playing in October while the New York Yankees would be heading home for the first time since the strike-shortened season of 1994. After this week’s four-game set in the Bronx, that hardly seems fair.
For the third time in four nights, the Yanks held the Chicago offense in check and beat up on their pitching. Javier Vazquez, pitching on three days rest, had next to nothing, and the Yanks cruised to a 9-2 victory. With that win, the Yanks staved off elimination for another day. With their magic elimination number down to one, the Yanks are delaying the inevitable while playing looser and better baseball than they have all season. Funny how that works.
But for a few minutes at the start of the game, things didn’t look so easy. Mike Mussina labored through the first inning, allowing two walks in one inning for the first time since he lasted just 0.2 innings on May 20, 2008. With one run in and the bases loaded, Moose appeared headed for an early exit, and those of us sitting in the upper deck were a minute away from groaning. Not another bad Mussina start, we moaned.
Mussina, in his potential last start as a Yankee at Yankee Stadium, would have none of that negativity. He would allow only three of the last 18 hitters he faced would reach base, and the crowd gave Mussina a thunderous ovation. He tipped his cap, and the normally stoic pitcher even allowed a smile to creep onto his face. He knows as well as we do that his future in the Bronx is not guaranteed.
We’ll have to save that epic debate on Moose’s future for another day. I see the reasons why bringing him back would be a good idea; I see why cutting him loose would be the right step as well. Whatever the outcome, tonight belonged to Mussina, and he delivered. Maybe he’ll get to that magic 20-win plateau after all.
Offensively, another Yankee with an uncertain future led the barrage. Making sure that Home Run Javy lived up to his nickname, Bobby Abreu took Vazquez deep twice in the first three innings of the game. He drove in six of the nine Yankee runs and will also cause the Yanks’ front office and the team’s fans to wonder about the best course of action.
Additionally, Robinson Cano drew a walk. That, in and of itself, is significant as it had not happened since August 20. Cano really must improve his batting eye.
While the old pros gave the Yanks the game, the young kids popped in today as well. Most notable was the Major League debut of number 77 Humberto Sanchez. The center piece to the deal that sent Gary Sheffield to the Tigers, Sanchez had missed much of the last two seasons with a variety of arm injures. In his first outing, Sanchez showed why the Yanks coveted him. He hit 95 on the stadium gun, and his first big league out was a backwards K. He retired the White Sox in order on that strike out and two ground balls. Sanchez — along with Mark Melancon — should be a big part of the 2009 Yankee bullpen, and this duo should allow us all to forget about Joba the Reliever.
But the kids will wait until next year. Tonight belonged to Mussina, and in his final start at Yankee Stadium, he delivered his 72nd win in those hallowed grounds.