Matsui keeps Sabathia rolling past O's

Matsui keeps Sabathia rolling past O's

NEW YORK -- These days, feel free to pick a flattering statistic out of a hat. The Yankees hold a .681 winning percentage since the All-Star break, easily the best mark in the bigs. They have scored more than a dozen runs four times this season, winning those games by a combined margin of 61-20. Their starting pitcher for Sunday's game, CC Sabathia, leads the American League with 17 wins.

Yet perhaps most impressive -- or at least up there with all that other black ink -- is this: the Yankees have not been swept at home all season, and they have not lost three straight games at their new stadium since the first week of May.

In danger of snapping both streaks on Sunday, New York responded with eight innings of stout baseball and an almost-absurd eighth inning to reinforce its standing. The result was another win for Sabathia, a banner day for Hideki Matsui and a 13-3 blowout of the Baltimore Orioles.

"It's an important time of the season right now," Matsui said through an interpreter. "It's not good to go down two games straight and then not be able to come back again."

So the Yankees, quite naturally, came back. Stuck in a tied game in the middle innings, hitting coach Kevin Long approached Matsui with some advice, encouraging him to keep his left shoulder high as he swings. Heeding Long's words, Matsui singled in his next at-bat and then doubled in the sixth, the latter hit driving in two runs to give the Yankees a 5-3 lead.

From there, the rout was on. Matsui deposited a three-run homer into the right-field stands as part of an eight-run rally in the eighth, transforming a close game -- manager Joe Girardi even turned to Phil Hughes in the top half of the inning to protect a slim lead -- into a laugher.

"It makes it a lot easier when your stuff is not as sharp to know that you've got this lineup in your back pocket," Sabathia said. "If you go out and just put up zeroes, these guys will score runs."

Sabathia, as both his comments and curveballs revealed, did not have his best stuff. Back-to-back hits by Nolan Reimold and Ty Wigginton to lead off the second inning quickly turned into two runs, before Sabathia was able to settle down in the middle innings. Not trusting all of his pitches, Sabathia and catcher Jorge Posada agreed to throw more sliders as the game progressed. And it worked.

"I was just trying to do whatever I could to get outs," Sabathia said.

Indeed, outs were precious, making Johnny Damon's blunder in the fourth inning a rather damaging one. With one out and a runner on second, Damon fought off the sun to catch Justin Turner's fly to left. But moments later, believing there were three outs, Damon whirled and nearly tossed the ball into the stands.

Once Derek Jeter -- he of three hits and three runs scored -- began yelling, Damon realized his mistake, recovering in time to chuck the ball in the proper direction. But it was too late. Turner raced around third base to score, temporarily tying the game.

"It's one of those embarrassing things that you just hope doesn't happen again," Damon said. "It's happened to me a few too many times playing this game. I'm just glad we won."

The Yankees won despite the ejections of both Alex Rodriguez and Girardi -- who were tossed while arguing with home-plate umpire Marty Foster in the fifth inning -- and they did so for a number of other reasons.

Jeter contributed, as did Damon, Posada and Robinson Cano. And Melky Cabrera drove in four runs of his own, two of them on a single in the fourth inning and two on a double in the eighth.

"You give that lineup over there any small chance, and they're going to pounce on you," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.

Cabrera also made a leaping grab of Nick Markakis' would-be double in the third, crashing into the center-field wall to rob him.

And suddenly, just like that, New York is back to cruising. Winners of four straight before dropping two to the Orioles, the Yankees remain the odds-on favorites to claim home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They have their issues, yes -- A.J. Burnett remains a concern, as does Joba Chamberlain -- but the Bronx Bombers are easily as formidable as any team in the league.

Girardi, after his ejection, had a second-hand view, watching from his office as the Yankees tacked on run after run in the eighth. He has seen such rallies before, and it's only natural to think he will see them again.

"They're still good," Girardi said of such outbursts. "I like them from wherever I'm sitting."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.