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Mussina gets the start in Game 5
10/18/2004 3:39 AM ET
BOSTON -- What's another start against another ace? For Mike Mussina, it's the logical conclusion to a month's worth of hard work.

New York's top pitcher has matched up against some impressive opponents over his last five starts, counting off against the best the American League can offer. He faced Pedro Martinez twice down the stretch, Johan Santana in the ALDS and Curt Schilling in the ALCS opener.

And now he gets Martinez again, in a game that could send the Yankees to the World Series. Mussina is New York's answer to Boston's momentum, gathered in a Game 4 comeback that featured extra innings and forced extra games. Sixteen hours after that one ended, the teams have to meet again at Fenway Park.

"Well, I'm a firm believer in momentum in a short series. But again, we have to certainly look at the big picture and see where we are," said Joe Torre, New York's manager. "You know, it comes down to who is going to pitch the best. But for sure, I've always felt -- since I started doing this thing about nine years ago -- that momentum is easily changed in a short series.

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"And there's not much you can do about it. You just have to make sure that when we go out there for the next game that we can't carry this baggage with us."

Mussina was perfect through 6 1/3 innings in Game 1 last Tuesday, but the Sox battled back for four hits and four runs in the seventh frame. No matter -- Schilling was out early and the Yanks went on to a 10-7 win.

"Moose has pitched well for us," said Yankees captain Derek Jeter. "Hopefully, he'll be able to do exactly what he did the first time he faced them."

Facts machine
Mike Mussina needs just three strikeouts in Game 5 to take over the top spot on the ALCS career list:
Pitcher Strikeouts
Roger Clemens61
Mike Mussina59
Orlando Hernandez46
Jim Palmer46
Dave Stewart39
David Wells39
Catfish Hunter37
David Cone36
Pedro Martinez33
Andy Pettitte33
Dave McNally30
Mariano Rivera28
Dave Stieb28
Mike Cuellar28
Pitchers playing in the 2004 ALCS in boldface.

Actually, he'll have to do more. The Yankees had a fresh bullpen in Game 1. This time, they pitched 12 innings and will have to deal with the fallout. Three relievers -- Tanyon Sturtze, Mariano Rivera and Tom Gordon -- combined to work six innings. Rivera vowed to be ready for Game 5, but he may not be at his best.

That means Mussina has to go deep into the game, saving the relief staff from overexposure. Even if he did that and lost, New York would reset the staff for the final two games. Obviously, the Yankees don't even want to think about that. They want to send the Moose out to the hill and rally behind him, earning themselves a few days off before the World Series starts.

"We never take anything for granted. We know that they've got 27 outs," said Alex Rodriguez, waiting for his first berth in the Fall Classic. "You don't allow yourself to fast-forward, especially when you've got a good team over there. We've got business to take care of. Tomorrow starts tomorrow."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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