Unless the Yanks get swept in Boston this weekend it's very difficult to envision a scenario that knocks them out of the playoffs. The Tigers are five games back in the loss column and unless they get incredibly hot and the Yankees go into a funk that's a lot to make up with 17 games to play. Especially when the Yankees are playing Toronto, Baltimore and Tampa Bay in the 14 games that aren't against Boston. That means it won't be long before Joe Torre has to start thinking about his playoff rotation. Chien-Ming Wang and Andy Pettitte, probably in that order, are his first two hurlers and if he's healthy Roger Clemens will start Game Three. That leaves one spot for three guys and after Mike Mussina threw a gem in Toronto last night my money would be on the Moose.
It's no secret that Torre likes his veterans in big spots and no matter how well Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy pitch over the next two weeks they can't pitch 17 years. That number is going to be the biggest factor in Torre's decision-making, not the three awful starts that cost Mussina his spot in the rotation and not the strong September efforts by the pair of rookies. Torre doesn't need many reasons to pick one of his old horses but he got one from the Moose last night. He shut out the Blue Jays for five and two-thirds without looking particularly sharp and the manager had to go get him in the sixth when he ran out of gas. A month ago Torre probably wouldn't have gone to get Mussina with two on and two out after 87 pitches and Mussina would probably have shown his season-long inability to get himself out of jams and put the result in doubt. So if there's a silver lining to the likelihood that Torre will rely on the old righthander it's that he's learned his lesson about Mussina's limitations.
(AP PHOTO/CP, J.P. Moczulski)