OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- Derek Jeter already considers this the
The New York Yankees usually have a safe lead in early September
and a postseason berth all but locked up by mid-month. Now, every
win is big in a tight race for the AL East and the wild card.
Jeter homered on the first pitch of the game, Mark Bellhorn also
connected and Hideki Matsui added an RBI triple, and the New York
Yankees took an important series from the Oakland Athletics with a
7-3 victory Sunday night.
"I don't know why shoot for second place," Jeter said. "We're
still in the race for the AL East and that's what our approach is,
winning the division. You talk about us getting to the playoffs,
but we're in the playoffs now."
Shawn Chacon pitched 6 2/3 effective innings to win for the
fourth time in five starts, staked to an early lead thanks to New
York's suddenly potent offense.
Jason Giambi and Jorge Posada each hit RBI singles in the third
as the Yankees built a quick 4-1 lead against Barry Zito, then New
York added two more in the fourth on three straight hits -- a
leadoff double by Jeter, Matsui's triple that snapped an 0-for-12
streak and an RBI single by Gary Sheffield.
The Yankees moved one game ahead of Oakland in the AL wild-card
race and the A's fell a game behind the first-place Los Angeles
Angels in the AL West after all three teams entered play Sunday
with identical 76-59 records. The Angels beat Seattle 5-3.
New York has an off day Monday before playing three at Yankee
Stadium against lowly Tampa Bay, then a weekend series at home
against the archrival Boston Red Sox.
Chacon (4-2) gave the Yankees another solid pitching effort a
day after Aaron Small started in place of the injured Mike Mussina
and surprised everyone by pitching his first career shutout.
Chacon, who had his three-game winning streak snapped last Tuesday
at Seattle, allowed two runs and five hits, struck out three and
Manager Joe Torre insists the Yankees wouldn't be in this
position without the contributions of Small and Chacon. New York
has 20 wins from pitchers not in the rotation on opening day.
"There's no doubt in my mind this team has a chance to do
something good," said Chacon, inspired by Small's outing. "To be
a part of it is a blessing."
The A's won the opener Friday 12-0, then New York bounced back
with a 7-0 victory Saturday.
Zito's pitch count went up in a hurry and he was knocked out
after 3 1/3 innings to match his shortest outing of the year, which
he also did April 9 at Tampa Bay. He allowed six earned runs on
nine hits, struck out three and walked three before giving way to
"Walks and hit batters are not a good formula against this
club," A's manager Ken Macha said. "They worked the daylights out
of (Zito). One guy after another having five-, six-, seven-pitch
at-bats -- that's a task at getting through that batting order."
The left-handed Zito (12-11) was 9-2 with a 2.17 ERA over his
previous 14 starts, including an impressive nine-inning effort in
the A's 2-1, 11-inning win over the Angels last Tuesday.
Jeter hit his 15th homer of the year, third leadoff homer of the
season and 15th of his career. Bellhorn, earning the start as Torre
tries to give his bench some necessary at-bats before the stretch
run, hit a solo homer with two outs in the second for his eighth of
"I wasn't getting the ball down," said Zito, who will get an
extra day off before his next turn. "They had a good approach.
They laid off a lot of good changeups down and they capitalized on
mistakes. It seemed like we played them one way and they hit it the
Marco Scutaro hit his sixth homer with two outs in the fifth,
and Jay Payton and Scott Hatteberg each had two hits for the A's,
who lost for the fourth time in five games following a seven-game
"We've had this kind of stretch before and bounced back,"
Oakland outfielder Nick Swisher said. "There's just a little more
at stake right now. There's still a lot of baseball left and we
know how to come from behind."
Zito is 2-7 in 13 career starts against the Yankees, his worst
winning percentage against any team he's faced at least twice. Zito
allowed three runs and six hits over 7 1/3 innings in the A's 6-3,
10-inning win at Yankee Stadium on May 6, but did not receive a
Oakland's Jason Kendall, who had his seven-game hitting streak
snapped, came in batting .556 against Chacon.
Torre expects Jaret Wright (bruised collarbone) to make his
start Wednesday after throwing a successful side session Sunday.
... At 3 hours, 35 minutes, Oakland played its longest nine-inning
game this year. ... Zito has allowed 14 home runs in 75 2/3 career
innings against the Yankees. ... New York 1B Tino Martinez missed
his fourth straight game with a strained rib cage. ... A's
third-base coach Ron Washington has received an outpouring of
support from the A's after his house was flooded in Hurricane
Katrina in his native New Orleans. The A's raised money for him,
and Giambi, who worked with Washington in the Oakland farm system,
gave $20,000 to help Washington and his family recover. Washington
will leave the A's late Monday and spend three days in Alabama with
his wife and family -- all 26 of them -- working to get them moved
from a shelter into three houses.