NEW YORK (AP) -- The Boss made a beeline across the clubhouse,
right to Mariano Rivera. George Steinbrenner rested his hands on
the closer's shoulders -- come October, the New York Yankees could
be doing the same thing.
Rivera made an impressive return from the disabled list, needing
only seven pitches to close out a perfect ninth inning and a 6-3
win Thursday over the Kansas City Royals."It's very important to the psyche of this club,'' manager Joe
Torre said.Alfonso Soriano, Raul Mondesi and Robin Ventura homered to
account for all the Yankees' runs. Then the crowd of 55,142 stood
when Rivera trotted in from the bullpen to pitch the ninth.Activated before the game after recovering from a strained right
shoulder, Rivera quickly earned his 25th save in 29 chances."Once I threw the first pitch, everything was perfect,'' Rivera
said. "I feel great. It felt great to be back.''The Yankees thought the same way."It's just a great lift for the team,'' center fielder Bernie
Williams said. "I assume it's got to put a little pressure on the
opposition, knowing they've got to score early because they don't
want to face him.''The Yankees boosted their home run total to 172, most in the
majors. The AL East leaders sent Kansas City to its 14th loss in 16
games.The homers provided plenty of support for Andy Pettitte (7-4).
He won his third start in a row, pitching into the eighth inning.Paul Byrd (14-8) was tagged for all three homers. He threw
complete games in four of his last five starts, but didn't get out
of the sixth inning in his second career appearance at Yankee
Stadium."I made my pitches when I wanted to with Mondesi and he hit it
out. I made my pitch to Soriano and he hit it out,'' Byrd said.
"It was a little confusing to me.''Ventura, stuck in a 1-for-19 slump, hit his 23rd home run in the
second. Jorge Posada, playing on Jorge Posada Bobblehead Day,
followed with a double and Mondesi launched his 22nd homer into the
upper deck in left field for a 3-1 lead.In the third, Byrd's streak without a walk ended at 42 1/3
innings when threw four straight balls to Derek Jeter with one out.
The Royals record is 46 2/3 innings without a walk by Doug Bird in
1976.Soriano broke it open with a three-run shot in the fifth.
Mondesi singled to lead off, and Ron Coomer reached on third
baseman Luis Alicea's error to set up Soriano's 28th home run.Byrd left after another walk, to Mondesi, loaded the bases with
one out in the sixth.Pettitte, who has not allowed a home run in his last nine
starts, improved to 9-3 lifetime against Kansas City. He helped
himself with his 67th pickoff since 1995 -- tops in the majors -- and
got even more help from left fielder Rondell White.White drew a standing ovation after making a diving catch on the
warning track to rob Aaron Guiel in the fourth and made a sliding
grab on Chuck Knoblauch's liner in the eighth.Raul Ibanez, who doubled and scored in the second, chased
Pettitte with an RBI single with two outs in the eighth."I was upset that I couldn't get out of the eighth and try to
talk them into letting me pitch the ninth,'' Pettitte said.
Yankees 1B-DH Nick Johnson was not available a day after
spraining his left wrist making a catch. He has a bone bruise and
is day to day. ... Soriano is two home runs shy of the team record
for a second baseman. Joe Gordon hit 30 in 1940. ... Royals C A.J.
Hinch, who had thrown out only 12 percent (4-for-33) of opposing
runners, caught Derek Jeter at second base. Jeter was caught for
only the second time in 29 steal tries this season... Soriano
struck out his other three times at-bat. ... Ibanez has 42 RBI in
39 games. ... The Yankees have not lost any of their last 12 series
since dropping two of three in Baltimore from June 25-27. ... The
Yankees have hit three or more homers in 21 games this season. They
had a total of 20 such games last year.