NEW YORK (AP) -- For Mike Mussina, it was important to finish what he started.
Mussina saved a struggling New York bullpen with a four-hitter Saturday, pitching the Yankees to a 5-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics.The win ended a four-game losing streak that had dropped the seven-time defending AL East champions into a last-place tie with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, nine games behind first-place Baltimore.It was also the only victory of the day for owner George Steinbrenner. His horse, Bellamy Road, was the Kentucky Derby favorite but finished seventh.Mussina (3-2) dominated the Athletics with his 22nd career shutout and first since Aug. 17, 2003 -- which was also the last complete-game victory by a Yankees pitcher. He struck out three, walked two and allowed only two runners to reach second base in his
131-pitch outing."Finishing was obviously important to him," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He had command of the strike zone. He threw all his pitches and he was able to throw strikes."With 11 wins after 30 games, the Yankees had their poorest record at that point since 1966, when they were also 11-19. The last time the team was eight games under .500 was June 1995, the year before Torre became manager and led the Yankees to nine straight playoff appearances, including six American League pennants and four World Series championships.Had the Yankees lost, they would have had their fewest wins after 31 games since 1913, when they were 9-22."A well-pitched ballgame changes your personality," Torre said. "It seems the ballclub takes on a different personality. There's less tension. The defense is crisper. This was a good sign. It was a baby step because of the way we won. Hopefully, this will be our signature this year."In a sport where pitch counts are kept meticulously, Mussina ignored the growing number, getting the edge batter after batter with first-pitch strikes.Mussina threw first-pitch strikes to 24 of the 32 hitters he faced. It was an important advantage."Any time you throw Strike 1 to hitters, it allows you to do a lot more things," he said. "I threw a lot of fastballs and curves and mixed in other things from time to time."The A's noticed."We didn't have many opportunities," manager Ken Macha said. "He got first-pitch strikes on 75 percent of our hitters and went to work from there. He was getting ahead of the hitters and using all his pitches. He was very good with that."Mussina cruised through the Oakland lineup, allowing two runners in the same inning just once until the ninth. Then, when the Athletics put men on first and second with two outs in the ninth, Torre came jogging to the mound."How're we doing ?" he asked Mussina."Go on back," the pitcher replied.New York managed just five hits against Joe Blanton and two relievers but gave Mussina an early lead.The Yankees picked up a quick run against Blanton (0-3) in the first inning when Derek Jeter drew a leadoff walk and scored on a double into the left field corner by Gary Sheffield.In the second, Tino Martinez hit Blanton's first pitch for his fifth home run of the season, making it 2-0.The Yankees doubled their lead an inning later. Tony Womack
singled with one out and Sheffield walked. The runners advanced on an infield out and Alex Rodriguez doubled them home.Rodriguez singled home another run in the eighth.Before Saturday, the Yankees had lost eight of the last 10 games, tumbling to the bottom of the standings. Torre was blunt about the slump, saying, "Right now, we stink. The more games you lose now, the more you have to make up later."
The win was the first for the Yankees since the roster shake-up that promoted minor-league second baseman Robinson Cano, moved Womack to left and Hideki Matsui to center. They had lost four straight since making the changes. ... The Yankees have used seven starting pitchers, tying Boston and Tampa Bay for the most in the majors
this season. ... The win was the 899th for Torre as manager of the Yankees. He is fifth on the team's all-time list, trailing Joe McCarthy (1,460), Casey Stengel (1,149), Miller Huggins (1,067) and Ralph Houk (944).