Jason Hammel started for the Rays, Mike Mussina for the Yankees. Better days are ahead for the former and behind for the latter. Who would prevail?
Well, mark one up for experience, as Mussina and the Yankees took a 6-1 win to earn a split of the four-game series in front of 41,302 at Yankee Stadium.
Mussina still had enough tricks in his 39-year-old arm to give the Yankees a solid six innings in which he held the Rays to one run on two hits. Jonny Gomes provided the lone blemish on the former All-Star's line in the third inning, when he deposited a 2-1 pitch into the left-field stands for his second home run of the season to cut the Yankees' lead to 2-1.
"Mussina tonight, what he did was he had a tremendous command of his offspeed pitches, changeup and breaking pitches -- he threw them for strikes at will," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He mixed his fastball in judiciously but primarily pitched with his offspeed [pitches], throwing them for strikes and not really hanging anything. I thought he was very good."
When asked if Mussina was doing anything special on Monday night, Rays center fielder B.J. Upton described Mussina as "being Moose, I guess."
"In and out, keeping the ball down, mixing up pitches -- he kept us off balance all night," Upton said. "You've got to tip your hat to him."
Hammel, 25, found the going more difficult from the outset, as Bobby Abreu connected for a two-run homer in the first to put the Yankees up, 2-0.
"I made a bad pitch against Abreu," Hammel said. "That guy's hitting about .700 against me. I guess I'll get him out sooner or later.
"He hit a fastball. It was supposed to be down and out, and it got a little bit too much of the plate."
Hammel settled into a nice rhythm after the rough beginning with four scoreless frames before Abreu tripled to lead off the sixth and scored on Alex Rodriguez's broken-bat single. Hideki Matsui then doubled to score Rodriguez, who was running on the pitch, and give the Yankees a 4-1 lead.
"I felt good," Hammel said. "I was throwing all of my pitches for strikes, I was attacking the zone. They hit some good ones, they hit some bad ones. Hats off to their pitching. It won't happen often [that] you keep our guys to one run."
Matsui and Robinson Cano added RBI singles off Scott Dohmann in the seventh to push the lead to the final margin of 6-1.
The Rays' road trip got off to a 3-1 start, including two wins in a row against the Yankees, but they dropped the final two games before heading home for their home opener on Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. In years past, a .500 road trip would have been viewed as a good thing. This year's club didn't see it that way.
"Yeah, [it is disappointing] because we started out so good," left fielder Carl Crawford said. "We're still .500, but we started out real high, and to lose the last two is a little disappointing. But we're just going to try to start back up with another little streak."
Understanding where the Rays have been in the past, Maddon surmised that "it's great that we're disappointed" with a .500 road trip.
"To go 4-2 overall would have been fantastic," Maddon said. "And to settle for .500, it's good and disappointing at the same time. It's part of raising our level of expectations."
The final two games in New York were played in cold temperatures, making the idea of returning home to play in Tropicana Field's controlled environment even more appealing.
"This cold weather has been tough -- it's good that it's over with right now, and it will be good to be home in the dome, where it's nice and warm," Upton said.
Added Crawford: "We're ready to get back into the warm weather -- we're more loose there. We're not using [the cold weather] as an excuse, but it's a little more comfortable [at Tropicana Field]."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.