Lawton's 2-run shot support's Unit's cause

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Yankees were headed up the tunnel from the

dugout to their clubhouse after Randy Johnson, Mariano Rivera and

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

at Texas.

"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.