Bombers beat up Astros, back in first

NEW YORK -- The last time the Yankees had a piece of first place in the American League East, it was the day before Alex Rodriguez dared to jog across Dallas Braden's mound.

Since that point on April 21 in Oakland, 14 games into the season, the Yankees have feasted on cupcakes, as they did this weekend against the Houston Astros, culminating their three-game sweep with a 9-5 rain-soaked victory Sunday.

Now tied with the Tampa Bay Rays for the best record in baseball at 40-23, the Yankees face a fascinating week in which they have a World Series rematch with the teetering Philadelphia Phillies and a Subway Series rematch with the rocketing New York Mets.

All the boredom from this weekend will be replaced with loads of excitement, because -- dare we say it -- the drumbeat of this baseball city is about to start that June tradition of chattering about how there could be, just maybe, a real Subway Series in October.

To climb back to the top of the baseball world, the Yankees have had a lot of Supposed-To-Sweep Series. This weekend was another one.

If you were looking for deeper meaning in these three games, here it is: Yankees, good; Astros, bad.

On Sunday, Jorge Posada, catching for the first time in nearly a month, hit his second grand slam in as many days. Only two other Yankees have done that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In 1927 and '29, Babe Ruth hit back-to-back grand slams, while in 1937 Bill Dickey nailed belly-to-belly slams on consecutive days.

"It's pretty special," Posada said of matching his fellow catcher Dickey.

Posada didn't catch the ninth inning, but he pronounced his still-recovering fractured foot more "tired" than sore. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said he was "a little concerned" about Posada, but both felt there was a good chance Posada will play Tuesday against the Phillies -- maybe even behind the plate.

On Sunday, Phil Hughes struggled (five runs in 5 2/3 innings), but that was good enough for him to improve to 9-1 and look as if he could very well play in the All-Star Game in Anaheim near his hometown next month.

"We've seen him pitch better," said Girardi, who will manage that All-Star Game. "We've seen him go deeper into games, but he did what he needed to do."

It certainly helps that an AL East team (besides the Baltimore Orioles) versus a NL Central team is sort of like baseball's version of a D-1 school versus an NAIA one. The Astros had won eight of 10 coming in, but even their manager, Brad Mills -- who used to be Terry Francona's bench coach in Boston -- wasn't surprised with the results.

"No, I don't think that it was surprising," Mills said of the sweep.

The Yankees may need each and every one of these cupcakes. With at most two playoff spots to be divvied up between four AL East teams, these wet, long days are the ones that could be the difference in terms of the Yankees fulfilling their half of a potential October Subway Series.

On Sunday, the Yankees smashed around the Astros' bullpen. In the fifth inning, Mills -- who might have thought he was still Boston's bench coach -- apparently got confused and managed as if this were a Red Sox-Yankees series and not equivalent to the Harlem Globetrotters versus the Washington Generals. Mills kept going to his 'pen, and his relievers kept having confetti thrown in their faces.

With one out and a man on in the fifth, Mills came out to remove starting pitcher Brian Moehler. Moehler hadn't pitched that poorly, only giving up three runs. He had thrown 99 pitches, and he had allowed a solo homer to Robinson Cano in the fourth. With Cano up again, Mills made the change.

The lefty, Gustavo Chacin, came in and immediately walked Cano and, for good measure, Nick Swisher to load the bases for Posada.

Mills made another switch, turning to righty Casey Daigle. Posada drilled a 2-0 pitch over the fence for a grand slam, and the Yankees were up, 7-1.

Hughes struggled in the sixth, giving up four runs, but the game was never in doubt.

The Yankees have now concluded the JV portion of their schedule for the time being. They beat up the Indians, the Orioles and the Astros, collecting 11 wins in 13 games (mixed in with losing two of three last weekend in Toronto).

The Yankees have filled up on the cupcakes and climbed into a tie for the best record in baseball. This week, they get to reminisce about last October while thinking about what might be this coming October.

GAME NOTES: The Yankees-Phillies series begins with an out-of-this world pitching matchup, featuring CC Sabathia (6-3, 4.01) vs. Roy Halladay (8-4, 1.96). … Chad Huffman, a 24-year-old outfielder, made his major league debut for the Yankees on Sunday. He picked up his first major-league hit, a dribbler in the third inning. He called it "a relief." The rookie had much of his family up from outside of Houston. He said playing against the Astros made his day even more special. … Alex Rodriguez, who might return to the lineup Tuesday, was replaced by Ramiro Pena at third base. Pena made a gorgeous diving catch of a Michael Bourn liner in the third inning. He also had a two-run single in the fourth.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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