Surging Yankees complete sweep

Surging Yankees complete sweep

NEW YORK -- First things first, right?

Since the All-Star break, the Yankees rank first in batting average, first in home runs, first in runs scored, first in RBIs, first in on-base percentage and first in slugging percentage.

And with their 8-5 win on Sunday at Yankee Stadium, the Bombers are 18-7 since the break.

In other words, first in wins.

The Yankees sit a half-game behind the Tigers and Mariners for the top spot in the American League Wild Card race, and the AL East has tightened considerably since the Midsummer Classic.

"Right now, we're in a position to do the work ourselves," manager Joe Torre said. "We don't have to rely on anybody else."

Mike Mussina carried the brunt of the work on Sunday, scattering nine hits without walking a batter in his seventh win of the season. Two double plays and the resurgence of a juggernaut offense backed the 38-year-old veteran through six innings.

With the win, Mussina picked up an honor of sorts. He recorded his 246th victory, breaking a tie with Dennis Martinez to become the winningest pitcher in Major League history never to record a 20-win season.

The game ball used in his record-setting game won't work as a bargaining chip like Alex Rodriguez's 500th home run, but Mussina said he's satisfied with the all-time mark. He's just glad to be pitching, and even happier to be pitching when the Yankees' offense is putting up so many crooked numbers.

"We've been doing that lately," Mussina said. "We're putting it in play. We're putting it in play hard. I know we're hitting a lot of homers ... those are the kind of things this team has done in the past to be successful, and we've been doing it the past couple of weeks, and scoring a lot of runs and winning some games pretty handily."

Hideki Matsui hit his 100th homer with the Yankees, and he leads all Japanese-born players in the home run category. The fan who caught the ball gave it back to Matsui in exchange for an autographed bat and ball.

After hitting .345 with 13 home runs in the month of July, Matsui has started August 6-for-17, including a home run off Kansas City starter Gil Meche on Sunday. According to Torre, the Yankees left fielder "just sucks up those RBIs."

Matsui is one of several left-handed bats coming alive in the Yankees' second-half surge. Bobby Abreu recorded his fourth three-hit effort in a span of five games, and Melky Cabrera, a switch-hitter batting from the left side on Sunday against the right-handed Meche, extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a single and a home run.

The stinging strokes from the southpaws have evoked several questions of late, most of which wonder how all of the lineup's lefties caught fire at the same time.

"I'm not sure," Matsui said. "I think it's just a coincidence."

Despite the ample offense, however, Torre noted his concern for the bullpen, which lost an experience veteran, Scott Proctor, at the trade deadline less than a week ago.

Brian Bruney relieved Mussina with one on and no outs in the seventh. Royals shortstop Tony Pena smacked a hard grounder to third, where Wilson Betemit snagged it and started a double play.

All seemed well at that point, Torre said, but Bruney lost the strike zone, walking center fielder David DeJesus before surrendering a single to second baseman Esteban German.

Mike Myers took over for Bruney, but had troubles of his own, allowing two hits and a walk. Torre had seen enough and brought Mariano Rivera in to get the final out of the eighth. The Yankees closer then finished the ninth for his 17th save of the season.

"The walks still haunt us," Torre said. "We still have to find a way not to go to Mo in the eighth inning."

The bullpen meltdown brought up the frequently asked question surrounding Yankees top prospect Joba Chamberlain, who struck out five batters in two innings on Saturday for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Torre stretched out his hand in response to the Chamberlain inquiry.

"I don't even know what the kid looks like," the manager said. "But just to hear all the things I've heard about him, yeah, I'm curious."

Whether Chamberlain is ready or not, whether the bats will continue to produce and whether the Yankees will continue their post-All-Star break winning ways remains to be seen.

But as the club inches closer to playoff-berth territory, the Yankees won't settle for less, Torre said.

"I'm keeping my eye on the division," he said. "Sure, we have the ability to win a Wild Card, but I still want to work harder and win the division."

Caleb Breakey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.