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Sparks tosses seven strong innings

PHOENIX (AP) -- Knuckleballer Steve Sparks succeeded where so
many other pitchers have failed this season. He shut down the New
York Yankees.

Sparks allowed one run in seven innings in the Arizona
Diamondbacks' 6-1 victory Thursday night to get his first win in
eight starts. He allowed three hits and walked seven.

The only run he gave up was Alex Rodriguez's 456-homer into the
restaurant on the second deck at Bank One Ballpark.

The Yankees are no stranger to knuckleballers. They face Tim
Wakefield of Boston regularly, and saw Sparks when he was with
Detroit.

"You just swing hard and hope you hit it," said Gary
Sheffield, who was 0-for-4. "The thing is you don't know if the
ball is going to go up, down or in. You just try to pick a spot and
hope he comes there."

Sparks said he would rather walk a Yankee than throw something
over the middle of the plate.

"My objective usually is to try to get ahead," Sparks said.
"But with these guys, there are so many boppers in their lineup
you don't want to just throw some `get-me-over' knuckleball early
in the count. For the most part, I tried to throw my best
knuckleball early."

Juan Brito became the third Arizona player to hit his first
major league homer in the last three games.

"It's sort of a dubious honor that we seem to bestow on
ourselves," New York manager Joe Torre said. "One each game, but
we won two out of three so I guess we're fortunate."

Brito, who also had an RBI single in Arizona's four-run eighth
inning, had the tough job of catching Sparks' knuckler.

"A great job by Juan Brito behind the plate and at the plate,"
said Arizona manager and ex-catcher Bob Brenly said. "It's not
easy catching that knuckleball. He battled back there."

New York had a four-game winning streak snapped in losing for
just the fourth time in 22 games and second in 19 interleague games
dating to last season.

Brito's line drive off Jon Lieber just cleared the wall in
left-center to put Arizona up 2-1 in the seventh. Steve Finley's
double and Danny Bautista's RBI double made it 3-1 with no outs in
the eighth to end Lieber's night. Shea Hillenbrand doubled in two
runs and Brito singled in another to make it 6-1.

Lieber (5-4) allowed four runs on nine hits, striking out four
and walking one in seven-plus innings.

"This is probably the best I've felt in a while honestly,"
Lieber said. "I really felt I had good life on the baseball and
was able to keep it down a little bit better than in previous
starts."

He went into the eighth with his team trailing only 2-1.

"In a game like this, you have to make pitches late in the
game, and I didn't do that," Lieber said. "That's the frustrating
part."

Sparks (3-4) won despite throwing more balls (60) than strikes
(55). Former starter Elmer Dessens retired the heart of the
Yankees' order in the eighth, then pitched a scoreless ninth for
his second save.

Rodriguez homered for the second straight night and reached base
safely for the 53rd consecutive game. The last Yankees player to
have a streak that long was Derek Jeter, who reached in the first
53 games of the 1999 season.

The Diamondbacks took their first lead of the series, 1-0, in
the opening inning. Scott Hairston and Finley singled, putting
runners at first and third. Hairston scored when Bautista bounced
into a fielder's choice.

Finley made a lunging stab of Jorge Posada's drive to the wall
about 410 feet into right-center in the fourth.

"I didn't know if it was going to catch the overhang or not,"
Finley said. "I've made a lot of mistakes in going to that wall.
You kind of end up jumping too soon. I told myself, `You're getting
to the wall this time.' And I got back there and luckily made the
play."

Bautista ran down Jeter's deep drive in right field with runners
at first and second to end the seventh.

"Some people who may not have seen those guys play out there
before might have been surprised, but I wasn't," Brenly said.
"We've seen Steve Finley do that here for years, and Danny
Bautista very quietly is having himself a solid season not only at
the plate but out there with the glove."

Game notes
Arizona SS Alex Cintron was out of the lineup in favor of
Olson. ... The series drew 144,592, the second-largest attendance
for a three-game series in the Diamondbacks' seven-year history.
... Lieber has issued four walks in 59 2-3 innings this season. ...
The Yankees lead the majors with 95 homers. ... Arizona has
committed six errors in its last two games.