Pettitte halted another Yankees slide by winning his sixth straight start, and Johnny Damon hit a tiebreaking homer against his former team in New York's 5-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night.
Pettitte's strong effort came on the same night manager Joe Torre told the struggling Mussina that he'll be passed over for his next scheduled start Saturday against Tampa Bay. The Yankees will call up touted prospect Ian Kennedy from Triple-A to pitch against the Devil Rays in the middle of a pennant race.
"We've had a rough stretch. We need to get our rotation in order," Pettitte said. "Thankfully, I was able to give us a good outing."
Boston came to town with an eight-game lead over New York in the AL East and a chance to open a nearly insurmountable cushion. But the Yankees beat Daisuke Matsuzaka for the first time and rebounded from a 2-5 trip that ended Monday night with a 16-0 loss at Detroit.
"It's a situation now like we're in the playoffs," Jeter said. "We need to get some wins."
Pettitte (12-7) played stopper once again. He allowed three runs and six hits in seven innings, improving to 8-1 in 10 starts since the All-Star break. His last three wins have followed New York defeats, making him 69-33 in such situations with the Yankees.
"He always seems to step up big," Jeter said.
After making an error in the sixth, Ramirez was lifted in the bottom of the seventh because of muscle spasms in his lower back. Boston manager Terry Francona said the team would see how Ramirez feels Wednesday. The Red Sox would be happy if the slugger missed only one game.
"Hopefully, but I don't think so," teammate David Ortiz said.
Ramirez was replaced by Bobby Kielty, who was removed in the eighth due to a sore lower back that has been bothering him for a while. He plans to have X-rays Wednesday.
Pettitte improved to 6-0 this month, making him 45-16 in August during his career. He upped his record against Boston to 15-6 and threw 119 pitches, his most since tossing 120 on May 20 last year with Houston.
"I felt real good and I was on an extra days' rest," Pettitte said. "I felt really strong tonight."
Joba Chamberlain worked a scoreless eighth with two strikeouts and hit 100 mph on the radar gun. With two on, the rookie sensation struck out J.D. Drew on a nasty slider to end the inning and let out a fired-up scream as he pumped his fist.
Mariano Rivera fanned two in the ninth for his 21st save -- his first 1-2-3 outing in eight appearances since Aug. 10.
Matsuzaka (13-11) lost his third consecutive start, allowing five runs and six hits in 6 1/3 innings. The famous rookie from Japan won both his previous starts against New York this year despite a 6.92 ERA.
"I think that each hitter in their lineup is very skilled," Matsuzaka said through a translator.
With the score tied at 3, Andy Phillips singled leading off the seventh and pinch-runner Wilson Betemit moved up on Melky Cabrera's sacrifice. Damon lofted Matsuzaka's next pitch into the right-field corner, just beyond the short porch and barely fair.
"It counts, so I guess that's all that matters," Damon said.
Damon popped out of the dugout for a curtain call to the delight of a sellout crowd of 55,037 that included Tiger Woods. Damon is batting .350 since July 21.
"Health-wise, I'm feeling great," he said. "I can bring a lot of energy to the team."
Varitek's leadoff shot in the top of the seventh tied it at 3. He hit a high fly into the left-field stands, just beyond a leaping Damon.
Matsuzaka retired 12 of 13 batters before Jeter's solo home run in the fifth gave New York a 3-2 lead. Jeter had gone 87 at-bats without a homer since connecting Aug. 1 against the White Sox.
Ramirez hit a leadoff shot in the second, making him the 12th player in major league history to hit at least 20 homers in 13 straight seasons. He has 52 home runs against the Yankees, tied with Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski for fourth-most by a New York opponent.
"We were one hit away, and they had the one hit from Johnny," Varitek said.
- The Yankees optioned LHP Sean Henn to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and recalled reliever Chris Britton from their top farm club. Henn threw 79 pitches Monday night against Detroit.
- It was Jeter's second homer this season off Matsuzaka.
- Jeter's 192nd home run tied Tino Martinez for 13th place on the Yankees list.
- The Yankees are 30-11 in their last 41 home games.