Wright allows four hits in seven innings

NEW YORK (AP) -- When Jaret Wright walked off the mound at Yankee Stadium with an aching right shoulder on April 23, he didn't know whether his season was over.

He returned triumphantly Monday night, giving the New York Yankees his second straight strong start following a layoff of nearly four months.

Wright got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first and went on to allow just four hits in seven sharp innings, pitching the Yankees to a 7-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays that moved New York into a tie for the AL wild-card lead.

In that April start, Wright came out after 5 1/3 innings of a 10-2 loss to Texas and his ERA stood at 9.15.

"There was a lot of doubts whether I'd be able to play again," he said.

He made it back to the major leagues on Aug. 15, pitching 6 1/3 innings in a 5-2 victory at Tampa Bay. In the two starts since he was activated, he has allowed two runs in 13 1/3 innings, a 1.35 ERA. He joined Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson to give the Yankees three of their original starting pitchers. Al Leiter and Shawn Chacon fill out the rotation for now.

"I think it's the best our pitching staff has been since I've been here, in over a year and a half," said Alex Rodriguez, who doubled in a run in the eighth to reach 100 RBI for the eighth
straight season.

Carl Pavano (shoulder) and Kevin Brown (back) remain sidelined along with fill-in Chien-Ming Wang (shoulder). Johnson, who has a bad back, is winless in four starts since July 26.

"If we're going to do it, it's going to be our pitching," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.

Hideki Matsui drove in three runs for New York, which broke open a close game with a four-run seventh. The $200 million Yankees (68-55) moved within 3½ games of idle Boston (71-55), the AL East leader, and tied Oakland in the wild-card race, less than a percentage point ahead of Cleveland (69-56).

"In our situation, we were just happy to be hanging around," Torre said. "As badly as we played at times and as frustrating as some streaks have been, we always managed to stay close enough to make sure that if we did go into a little hot streak, we could do
something. And right now, we control our own destiny. That's really all you want. We have our future in our hands.

"Obviously, if we don't get the job done, it means we weren't good enough," he said.

Wright (4-2) walked the bases loaded in the first but retired Gregg Zaun on an inning-ending flyout. He threw 46 pitches over the first two innings but needed just 53 to get through the next five before Alan Embree, Tanyon Sturtze and Scott Proctor finished the five-hitter.

"The first inning was scary," Wright said. "I felt a little out of synch early."

Wright got help when second baseman Robinson Cano threw out Shea Hillenbrand at the plate in the fourth on Zaun's grounder with the infield in. With runners at the corners in the fifth, Frank Catalanotto grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Rodriguez made a diving backhand stop on Zaun's grounder to third leading off the seventh. Felix Escalona, playing shortstop to give Derek Jeter a night off to recover from a jammed right thumb, jumped to snare a liner by the next batter, Alex Rios.

"I thought Wright looked really good," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "It looked like he got his fastball back. We didn't see that early in the year."

Scott Downs (1-3) gave up two runs -- one earned -- and six hits in six innings for Toronto, which lost its fourth straight. He was making his Yankee Stadium debut.

"I went out on the field when nobody was out there and looked around," he said. "It's a dream come true. A lot of kids dream about coming here to pitch, at Yankee Stadium, and I got to do it."

Gibbons was ejected by plate umpire Marvin Hudson in the seventh for arguing after Bernie Williams was called safe at the plate on Matsui's two-run single. Zaun had tried to block the plate.

"If you want them to fight for you, you have to fight for them," Gibbons said.

New York went ahead in the second when Jorge Posada's line drive that bounced off the glove of shortstop Russ Adams into short left field for an error that allowed Rodriguez to score.

Matsui added a long sacrifice fly to left-center in the fifth and made it 4-0 with the seventh-inning single off Pete Walker.

Jason Giambi ended an 0-for-21 slide with a single in the fourth and had an RBI single in the seventh off left-hander Scott Schoeneweis, who also allowed a run-scoring single to Escalona.

Wright was pleased to have started the homestand with a win.

"Coming back home here after the way I pitched and getting hurt and whatnot, I think it was a big start for me," he said. "I was excited to pitch again here."

Game notes
The game drew 50,162, ending the Yankees' streak of consecutive sellouts at 22. New York has sold out 33 of 62 home dates and is on pace to draw a team-record 4.03 million fans, assuming no dates are lost to rainouts. ... Tino Martinez ran for Giambi in the seventh, his 2,000th major-league appearance. ...
Toronto was blanked for the ninth time, tying Cleveland and Oakland for the AL lead.