BOSTON (AP) – Mike Mussina had a new role with the Yankees. Instead of preparing to start the regular season finale against Boston, he was in the visitor’s clubhouse at Fenway Park, taping plastic over lockers to protect them from champagne.

Mussina’s next appearance will be in Game 1 of the AL playoffs. The Red Sox hope Jaret Wright flops today as Mussina’s replacement. The Yankees made the switch after clinching their eighth consecutive AL East title Saturday with an 8-4 win over Boston.

“It’s not easier,” David Ortiz said. “When you take anything for granted in this game, the games comes and eats you up.”

The Red Sox (94-67) lost their chance to win the division on Saturday but have several ways to get the wild card and maintain their hopes of a second straight World Series championship.

They would win the wild card if they beat the Yankees on today or the Indians (93-68) lose to the AL Central champion White Sox. If Boston loses and Cleveland wins, the wild card would be decided in a one-game playoff Monday at Fenway Park, with Matt Clement pitching for the Red Sox on three days’ rest.

“Let’s hope it works out where we don’t have to even think about that,” said Clement, who felt good throwing before Saturday’s game and isn’t worried about the short rest. “There’s more combinations that can happen where I don’t pitch Monday.”

Curt Schilling can clinch the playoff berth when he starts today.

“I think he’s the best big-game pitcher of our generation,” Kevin Millar said.

Schilling is just 7-8 with a 5.98 ERA, missing much of the year with an injured ankle. He hasn’t been at his best since winning Game 6 of the AL championship series against the Yankees and Game 2 of the World Series against St. Louis after undergoing unique ankle surgery to keep a tendon in place and having blood seep onto his right sock during both games.

“I was talking to him during the game, and the way I heard him talking it reminded me when he pitched that one game in New York last year where he was bleeding to death,” Ortiz said. “He’s very positive. And, you know him. When he feels that way, look out.”

He may not have to pitch against the Yankees’ top lineup. Some regulars may get to rest.

“It turns into two and three because you rest Monday and start again on Tuesday,” Jason Giambi said. “That’s huge.”

Gary Sheffield wants no part of that: “I’m playing every day. I still want to win.”

If the Red Sox win the wild card, they would start the AL division series Tuesday at Chicago. The Yankees were waiting for their first-round foe to be determined: Cleveland or the Los Angeles Angels.

Mussina preferred to stand on a chair and attach the plastic with duct tape than to talk about his next start.

“Ask me later,” he said. “I don’t know who we’re playing.”

The Red Sox are just focused on today.

“We feel good about ourselves,” said Tony Graffanino, who had three of Boston’s seven hits. “I don’t care how you get in. We’ll take it any way we can get it.”

Of course, they’d rather get it today.

“Hopefully,” Clement said, “we’ll see what we’re used to seeing out of Curt Schilling.”

AP-ES-10-01-05 2031EDT


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