Andy Pettitte solid again as Yanks extend AL East lead

MINNEAPOLIS -- Andy Pettitte shrugged off another ageless performance by claiming he's still not as sharp as he wants to be.

The New York Yankees are plenty pleased by the way he's been pitching.

Pettitte threw six scoreless innings and the Yankees hit four home runs Monday to beat the Minnesota Twins 6-3 and extend their American League East lead.

"I'm happy to get through it, happy to give us a good start," Pettitte said, adding: "It's just there's definitely some room for me to improve."

The Yankees took a 1 1/2-game edge over Baltimore, which split a doubleheader with Toronto. This is the first time since Sept. 2 their margin has been more than one game. According to STATS research, the 21-day stretch during which the Yankees and Orioles were separated by one game or less was the second longest in Major League Baseball history, the most days since 1897.

"Right now I feel like everything is kind of rolling for us. It's real calm in here. It's relaxed. Guys are having a ton of fun," said Nick Swisher, who was the first to take Liam Hendriks (1-8) deep.

After playing three tense, one-run games against Oakland during the weekend, including their startling comeback for a 14-inning win Saturday, the Yankees enjoyed an easy one for a change. This was New York's 10th victory in 12 games.

Pettitte (5-3) hasn't given up a run in 11 innings since rejoining the rotation last week. The 40-year-old threw five scoreless innings against Toronto to mark his comeback from a broken lower left leg that kept him out for almost three months.

His successful unretirement, after supposedly ending his remarkable career in 2010, has been a big help for the banged-up Yankees even though this was only his 11th start of the season.

Swisher's two-out, two-run homer in the first inning off Hendriks sailed into the seats above right-center field to give the Yankees a 3-0 lead. Curtis Granderson's solo shot in the fourth went even higher and farther, landing in the second deck. Granderson became the fourth player in the majors to hit 40 homers this season.

In the bottom of that inning, Granderson made a postseason-worthy throw from center field after fielding a two-out single as Ryan Doumit raced from second base to home. The ball arrived just in time, and catcher Russell Martin made a quick sweep tag that grazed Doumit's shoulder a spilt-second before his hand touched the plate.

Then in the seventh, Raul Ibanez -- who is 7-for-12 with three homers in his past three games -- went deep with a drive that reached the standing-room space near the gate beyond right field. Eric Chavez added one more home run against Hendriks, an opposite-field liner with one out that barely reached the flower bed in left.

"It's a good lineup. There's no breaks in it. There's no breathers," said Hendriks, who recorded his first major league win last week at Cleveland after 17 starts without one. He gave up eight hits, six runs and one walk, striking out four over 6 1/3 innings.

Those career statistics for Hendriks are a stark contrast to Pettitte, who stretched his unbeaten streak against the Twins to 12 straight starts. That dates to May 2001, and includes division series victories in 2009 and 2010.

The Yankees have had him on a pitch count in his return to help him regain strength in his legs, but he threw 88 times without any trouble. Pettitte gave up seven hits and one walk. He struck out three.

"I love this guy. There's nothing that fazes him," Swisher said, adding: "You can only just look at that and be like, 'Man, I want to be like that.'"

The Yankees, who have been alone in or tied for first place since June 11, started a favorable final stretch of the season, with Minnesota, Toronto and Boston -- owners of three of the four worst records in the league -- left on the schedule. The Orioles also finish with the Blue Jays and Red Sox but must wrap up with a three-game series at Tampa Bay. The Rays still have an outside chance in the wild-card chase.

So now the Yankees have what seems like a large 1 1/2-game cushion, considering how close the race has been.

"I wouldn't say that," manager Joe Girardi said. "Any time you can make it bigger than it's been, it's nice."

Game notes
Derek Jeter extended his season-high hitting streak to 18 straight games with a ninth-inning single for the Yankees against Matt Capps, the former closer who pitched for the first time since July 16 due to a shoulder problem. ... Yankees RH reliever David Aardsma, whose recovery from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery last July is complete, joined the team at Target Field and took injured RH Michael Pineda's uniform No. 35. Aardsma could be activated from the DL this series, but Girardi said he'd have to "pick some spots" since the 30-year-old hasn't pitched in the majors in two years. ... Girardi said 1B Mark Teixeira, out with a strained left calf for all but one game since Aug. 27, ran the bases and took ground balls and batting practice at the team's minor league complex in Tampa, Fla., and fared well. Girardi stopped short of confirming Teixeira would return this week at Toronto, however. "The concern is that you rush him and then he has that one play and then you know that he's probably done for the season. So you've got to be sure," the manager said. ... Twins LF Josh Willingham left the game with a strained left shoulder, trying to catch Chavez's homer. ... Pedro Florimon hit his first career home run for the Twins in the eighth against Cory Wade.