Mussina's start undone by timely hits
Yankees righty unable to pick up key outs when needed
NEW YORK -- Yankees catcher Jorge Posada thought the Tigers pitched better than the Yankees on Thursday in squaring the American League Division Series at one game apiece. Not that Mike Mussina was bad, Posada noted, but the key to pitching is getting outs at the right time. Mussina did not do that as well as his Detroit counterparts, to which he pleaded guilty after the 4-3 loss.
"I felt like I had control, but it was a strange game," Mussina said. "It was frustrating. It was tough. I felt better than that. I threw the ball better than that, but it seems that every time they had a chance to score they scored. We had a lot of chances and didn't get many runs."
Ordinarily, if the Yankees hold the opposition to four runs, get ready to mark up a W. The Yankees, whose lineup Tigers manager Jim Leyland has dubbed "Murderers' Row plus Cano," averaged 5.74 runs per game during the regular season and put eight on the board Tuesday night in Game 1.
Mussina didn't get any more offensive support than Johnny Damon's three-run home run in the fourth inning that provided a two-run lead. With a run in each of the next three innings, the Tigers regained the lead and went on their first postseason victory in 19 years.
"It was a matter of them pitching better," Posada said. "[Justin Verlander] did a lot of things well to keep them in the game. So when they tied the ballgame, he was part of it."
The game simply got away from Mussina, whose postseason record fell to 7-8, including 4-4 in 10 Division Series starts. The right-hander, 37, allowed four runs and eight hits, including a home run, with no walks, five strikeouts and a costly wild pitch.
That came in the fifth sending Marcus Thames, who led off the inning with a double to left, to third base. One out later, Curtis Granderson scored Thames with a fly to center. In the sixth, Carlos Guillen tied the score with a home run to right.
"I didn't walk anybody, but I got into some bad counts," Mussina said. "The home run was on 2-and-0. One of the doubles was on 3-and-1. I threw Marcus Thames three pitches the whole game, and he got hits on each pitch. Three hits on three different pitches. You can't give them too many opportunities. You can't make mistakes. You can't do anything like that because this is the postseason. They're going to be close games, low-scoring games, and missed opportunities mean a lot."
The Yankees played into the Tigers' hands in the seventh. With Thames on first after a leadoff single and Brandon Inge attempting to sacrifice him to second, Posada couldn't handle a Mussina pitch for a passed ball. That put Thames on second, so that when Inge got a bunt down it moved the runner to third. Mussina got ahead 0-2 in the count to Granderson, who fouled off two pitches before driving a triple to left-center for the go-ahead run.
"I was trying to get it in so he couldn't get a good swing at it," Mussina said. "I didn't execute it properly. I didn't get it in enough."
Mussina sounded as if he was still uncertain about what approach to take against an aggressive group of hitters such as the Tigers.
"It's a double-edged sword," he said. "If you try to expand the strike zone early in the count because you think they're going to be aggressive and they take a few pitches, all of a sudden it's 2-and-0 and now you're in a position where you have to come in with a pitch in a hitter's count to a good hitting club. When you do that, you give up doubles and homers.
"At the same time, if you just throw stuff right over the plate, they're going to hit you, too. If you can't get them swinging at balls out of the strike zone early in the count, you'll get yourself in a bad position. You're better off just going right after them, getting strike one and taking it from there. That's the approach I took, and it wasn't successful getting myself in good situations as much as I wanted."
Jack O'Connell is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.