Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Yankees move into first place in AL East

Just a week after I predicted the Red Sox to finish on top of the AL East, there has already been a changing of the guard. The Yankees have won their first five games since the All-Star Break and, coupled with Boston losing four out of five, have taken a one-game lead in the AL East and hold sole possession of first place in the division for the first time since June 8.

The Yankees have allowed just 10 runs over these five games and are now 43-22 since Alex Rodriguez returned to the lineup after missing the season's first 29 games. After Hideki Matsui's walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth last night, the Yankees didn't suffer a letdown in the second game of their series with Baltimore, who dropped to 1-13 on the road against AL East opponents this season after tonight's 6-4 loss.

The Yankees made the most of their six hits and were helped by the struggles of Orioles starting pitcher Rich Hill, who walked four in his three innings of work, throwing 82 pitches and just 48 for strikes. A two-run single from Rodriguez in the third and a two-run home run by Robinson Cano in the fourth chased Hill from the game after he allowed five earned runs on just three hits. The Yankees were able to run all day on Orioles rookie catcher Matt Wieters, succeeding on their first three steal attempts until Wieters was finally able to gun down A-Rod stealing second in the seventh inning.

In his first start since 2007 after elbow surgery and a drug suspension, Sergio Mitre replaced the injured Chien-Ming Wang and picked up the win. He lasted 5.2 innings before tiring after 91 pitches and was pulled after allowing a two-run single to Melvin Mora that cut the Yankee lead to 6-4. Mitre allowed three earned runs on eight hits, striking out four against just one walk. The Yankees are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with Mitre, like they did with journeyman Aaron Small in 2005. Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke and Mariano Rivera threw 3.1 scoreless innings in relief as the Yankees bullpen continued to surprise with its recent stellar performance.

After they finish out their series with Baltimore tomorrow with the surging A.J. Burnett on the mound, the Yankees will host a four-game series against the last-place Oakland Athletics before traveling to Tampa for an important series with the Rays. They won't see Boston again until August 6, when they begin a four-game set with the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.

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