Rapid Reaction: Yankees 6, Twins 3

What it means: That for the first time in more than three weeks -- 22 days to be precise -- there is more than one degree of separation between the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles, their dogged pursuers for the AL East crown. Tonight's 6-3 victory over the last-place Twins, coupled with the Orioles splitting a doubleheader with Toronto, widened the Yankees lead to 1-1/2 games and lowered their magic number to win the division to 8.

The Andy Man Can: Andy Pettitte gave the Yankees six innings of shutout ball and has not allowed a run in the 11 innings he's worked since returning from 11 weeks on the DL with a broken ankle. Pettitte pitched his way out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first, striking out Justin Morneau -- with a big assist from HP ump Paul Nauert, who called a questionable strike on the 2-1 pitch -- and getting Ryan Doumit to ground to short, stranding all three runners. Pettitte used up more than a quarter of his pitch allotment, 23, in that first inning alone, but needed just 65 the rest of the way, scattering seven hits, walking one and striking out three.

The Liam Hendriks Experience ... : ... was a pleasant one for the Yankees, who launched four home runs into the warm night air above Target Practice Field. Batting against a pitcher they had never seen, the Yankees teed off for eight hits in 6 1/3 innings off the 23-year-old right-hander.

23 Skidoo: Nick Swisher belted his 23rd home run of the year, and belted is the operative term for this one, a laser off the facing of the RF bleachers, a blast measured at 428 feet. Swisher's shot scored Ichiro Suzuki and gave the Yankees a 3-0 first-inning lead.

Can't Miss: Ichiro, last week's AL Player of the Week with 15 hits in 25 ABs, started off this week with a line double high off the RF wall in the first inning.

Granderslam: Curtis Granderson's 40th HR of the season, a solo shot in the fourth, almost made Swisher's look puny. Grandy's blast went halfway up the RF bleachers and was measured at 437 feet. Granderson joins Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, and yes, Jason Giambi as the only Yankees with back-to-back 40 HR seasons.

Pretty grand throw, too: Just moments after tacking on a run for the Yankees with HR No. 40, Granderson took one away from the Twins, gunning down Doumit, who had doubled, at the plate after Jamey Carroll's single to center. Doumit might have been wiser to hold up -- Granderson charged the ball well and fired from shallow center -- but even so, the play was close and the on-the-money throw and quick tag by Russell Martin just nipped Doumit before his hand swept across home plate.

EEEE-Bomb-yez: Not to be outdone, Raul Ibanez sent one of Hendriks' fastballs into low earth orbit leading off the seventh. The solo shot, his 18th of the season, extended the Yankees lead to 5-0.

Flower power: Two batters after Ibanez's blast, Eric Chavez hit his 14th into the geraniums just beyond the lip of the left-field fence to make it 6-0.

Pitcher's best friend: Pettitte escaped a first-and-third, one-out spot in the third when he got Josh Willingham, the most dangerous hitter in Minnesota's lineup (35 HRs) to rap into an inning-ending DP. And in the fifth, after allowing a leadoff single, Pettitte's two-seamer got him another DP off the bat of Denard Span.

What's next: Game 2 of this three-game series, and 10-game season, pits Phil Hughes (16-12, 4.05) against RHP Esmerling Vasquez (6-4, 6.75), first pitch tomorrow at 8:10 p.m.