Derek Jeter and Mike Mussina lifted the Yankees back on the winning track Wednesday night.

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NEW YORK – It’s only the first week in June, but Yankee veteran Mike Mussina is nearly half way to a 20-win season.

The 39-year-old right-hander tied for the American League lead in wins with nine in a 5-1 victory over Toronto Wednesday night. Baffling the Blue Jays with a bevy of off-speed pitches, Mussina struck out a season-high six and walked one in his 259th win – one behind Hall of Famer Ted Lyons for 38th place. He also surpassed Bob Shawkey for seventh place on the Yankees’ all-time strikeout list.

“Moose has done a wonderful job,” Yankee manager Joe Girardi said. “I was here in 2005 as a coach and I got to know him. His knowledge of the game is very impressive to me. He’s always been a guy that knows how to pitch.”

Girardi, a former big leaguer himself, said when he faced Mussina he featured a consistent fastball in the low 90s, but that he has made minor adjustments as he has gotten older to compensate for his loss of velocity. “I don’t think it’s a fluke that he has nine wins. I’ve been very impressed. He pitches to his strengths.”

Wilson Betemit homered off Toronto starter Jesse Litsch (7-2) and the Yankees snapped a three-game skid by handing Toronto only its seventh loss in 22 games. Mussina (9-4) matched Los Angeles Angels left-hander Joe Saunders and Cleveland southpaw Cliff Lee for the league lead in victories.

It’s the 14th time in the past 15 years that Mussina has nine wins before the All-Star break, but this is the fastest he’s ever reached the mark. He didn’t earn his ninth win last season until Sept. 12.

“It is fun to pitch when you know where the ball is going,” Mussina said. “I’m pleased with the way I’m throwing the ball. The team played some good defense behind me and we found a way to win the game.”

Mussina wasn’t the only Yankee reaching new milestones on the night. Derek Jeter passed Mickey Mantle for third place on the Yankees career hits list. The crowd serenaded the captain with chants of “JETER! JETER!”

“It’s always special when they’re saying your name,” Jeter said of the fans. “I always appreciate it. I don’t think my name belongs up there though with the likes of Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle.”

Jeter, Johnny Damon, Melky Cabrera and Hideki Matsui hit RBI singles and relievers Ross Ohlendorf, Kyle Farnsworth and Mariano Rivera each worked a scoreless inning to finish it.

Friday began a stretch of 17 consecutive days of action through June 15. Following the Toronto series, the Yankees will play 25 straight games against non-AL East competition.

Catching Up

Jorge Posada returned to the Yankees’ bench Wednesday night and is expected to catch Thursday or Friday. The 36-year-old was activated from the 15-day disabled list, rejoining the active roster for the first time since Apr. 27. The veteran catcher’s right shoulder still isn’t a 100-percent and may require surgery at season’s end, but Posada said he believes it’s rehabbed enough to play and contribute.

“It feels like early in Spring Training, where there [were] no problems,” Posada said. “I’m looking forward to getting started again.”

He made his seventh and final extended spring training appearance on Tuesday in Clearwater, Fl. Posada caught six innings and threw out both Phillies minor leaguers, who attempted to steal. The Yankees clocked Posada’s throws at 1.95 seconds.

For the time being, the Yankees are going with three catchers: Jose Molina, Chad Moeller and Posada. That will change when Posada shows that he won’t suffer a reoccurrence of the right shoulder tendonitis that landed him on the DL.   

Posada is arguably as much a captain on the field as designated captain Derek Jeter, and has been sorely missed both behind the plate and in the batter’s box. His switch-hitting bat brings balance to the lineup. In his absence, Molina and Moeller have done commendable jobs, but the decrease in production is evident, especially at the plate where the tandem has struggled offensively to replace the All-Star catcher.

Star Alignment

In the second balloting update released by MLB on Monday, shortstop Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez remain atop their positions to earn starting nods for the 79th All-Star Game on July 15 at Yankee Stadium.

Second baseman Robinson Cano and designated hitter Hideki Matsui are each ranked second at their respective positions, while outfielders Bobby Abreu, Melky Cabrera and Johnny Damon are within the top-10 vote-getters among AL outfielders.

Jeter started slow, but has come on strong of late. The shortstop recorded his 2,416th hit, passing Yankee legend Mickey Mantle for third on the club’s all-time list. Jeter, who now trails only Lou Gehrig (2,721) and Babe Ruth (2,518) on the Yankees’ hit list, is hitting .283 with three home runs and 27 RBIs.  

Since returning from the DL, A-Rod has picked up right where he left off. In 15 games since Rodriguez was reinstated from the 15-day DL and inserted into the starting lineup, the Yankees are 9-6, while the offense is averaging nearly six runs a game. In the 17 games played while Rodriguez was sidelined, the Yankees went 6-11 and scored 3.5 runs per game.

Matsui might be the most deserving Yankee All-Star. The Japanese slugger is batting a league-leading .333 with six homers and 28 RBIs. Matsui has hit safely in 24 of his 28 games at Yankee Stadium this season, ranking second in the AL with a .388 home average.  

Date in History

On June 4, 2007, former Yankees third baseman Clete Boyer passed away at the age of 70. Boyer appeared in 1,068 games with the Yankees from 1959-66, batting .241 with 95 home runs. He also appeared in five World Series with the Bronx Bombers, including back-to-back championship clubs in 1961 and 1962.

While Greg Nettles often gets the nod as the “greatest Yankee third baseman,” you can make a strong case for the slick fielding Boyer – perhaps a forgotten man on those dynasty Yankees of his era. Boyer was also overshadowed by Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson during his time.

It’s not a surprise that Nettles learned a lot about the hot corner from Boyer, who was a Yankee instructor and coach during the 1970s and 80s.

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