NEW YORK (AP) -- The Yankees were headed up the tunnel from the
Matt Lawton combined with some great defense to beat the Baltimore
Orioles 2-1 Wednesday night.
That's when manager Joe Torre heard the crowd roar.
The scoreboard flashed that Tampa Bay had taken an eighth-inning
lead against Boston. For only the third night this year, the
Yankees went to bed with sole possession of the AL East lead.
"I thought Randy went back out there for a curtain call,"
catcher John Flaherty said.
Johnson (15-8) limited the Orioles to three hits over eight
innings in his first start since a second-inning ejection last
week, and Lawton broke out of a long slump with a two-run homer in
the second inning off Rodrigo Lopez (14-11).
New York's victory and the 7-4 loss by the Red Sox put the
Yankees (88-63) a half-game ahead of Boston (88-64). The only other
times this year that New York led the division were after an
opening-night win over the Red Sox and following a July 18 victory
"First place only counts on that last Sunday," Torre said
after the win, New York's ninth in 10 games.
The Yankees, a season-high 25 games over .500, were nine games
out of first in early May following an 11-19 start and trailed by
four games after losing to Boston on Sept. 10. Seeking their eighth
straight AL East title, they now lead with 11 games to go.
"We got to where we want to be, but it doesn't change the focus
of this team at all," Flaherty said. "This is going to be a grind
all the way out."
On Friday night at Toronto, Johnson was ejected in the second
inning for repeatedly complaining about the calls of plate umpire
Fieldin Culbreth. He didn't get into it with Tuesday's plate
umpire, Larry Vanover, but the 6-foot-10 left-hander did motion
with both hands at first-base umpire Randy Marsh when he didn't get
a check-swing call on former AL MVP Miguel Tejada in the fourth,
mimicking a swing.
"I just was focused. I was not going to get all worked up about
stuff," Johnson said.
He didn't allow a hit until the fifth inning and didn't give up
a run until the sixth, when Melvin Mora hit a long RBI double.
"He controlled his emotions," Flaherty said. "I'd like to see
him get a little more excited out there, but I think he was guarded
after what happened the last start in Toronto, and that's only
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez helped the Big Unit out twice in
the sixth, backhanding Bernie Castro's grounder over the bag to
hold him to a single, then sprawling on his knees to grab Javy
Lopez's two-out grounder to his glove side and throwing to first to
end the inning with Mora on third.
Johnson pointed at A-Rod as he came off the mound.
"That one was an in-between hop," Rodriguez said. "It was
tricky and, obviously with a man on third, any fumble is a run --
tie game. That made it a little bit more difficult."
Johnson struck out six and walked one, improving to 4-0 in his
last six starts. He retired his first 11 batters and his final
"He pitched backwards to me: first the sliders, then the
fastball," Orioles designated hitter Alejandro Freire said.
Johnson also got help from first baseman Jason Giambi, who
stretched prone in the fifth to glove a throw from shortstop Derek
Jeter and complete an inning-ending double play on Luis Matos'
Eric Byrnes had reached on a one-out throwing error by Jeter --
fans applauded when it was ruled an error that kept Baltimore
hitless -- and Chris Gomez singled cleanly to right before the
double play. Giambi had a tight lower back and was replaced in the
sixth by Tino Martinez.
After Johnson struck out Castro with a 96 mph fastball on his
119th and final pitch, Rivera came in and pitched a one-hit ninth
for his 41st save in 45 chances. Baltimore put two on with one out
before Rivera struck out pinch-hitter Jay Gibbons and retired B.J.
Surhoff, another pinch-hitter, on a soft liner.
Lawton, acquired from the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 27, had been
hitless in 19 at-bats, his longest slide in two years, and had not
homered since Aug. 29. Hideki Matsui singled off Rodrigo Lopez with
one out in the second and Lawton hit a two-out drive just over the
wall in right, his fifth hit in 42 at-bats with New York.
Before the game, Torre had joked with Lawton, who got to start
because Bernie Williams was 0-for-15 against Rodrigo Lopez.
"He looked at me and said, `Who's the new guy?" the outfielder
"I asked him, `Can we start over?' " Lawton said. "Tonight
was a good debut for myself."Game notes
Baltimore, which lost its fourth straight, learned before
the game that All-Star 2B Brian Roberts will need about six months
to recover from injuries to his left arm sustained in a collision
with the Yankees' Bubba Crosby on Tuesday night. ... Rodrigo Lopez
gave up six hits in six innings. ... The crowd of 50,382 boosted
New York's home attendance to more than 3.87 million. Barring
rainouts, the Yankees will go over the 4 million mark for the first
time when they play Toronto on Saturday. ... New York was 0-for-8
with runners in scoring position.
- Home Plate Umpire - Larry Vanover
- First Base Umpire - Randy Marsh
- Second Base Umpire - Jim Wolf
- Third Base Umpire - Sam Holbrook