The New York Yankees have a 3 1/2-game lead in the AL wild card race. They’d rather reduce a 3 1/2-game deficit in hopes of winning their 10th straight division title.
The Yankees look to continue their surge toward the top of the AL East on Tuesday night when they continue a three-game series with the lowly Baltimore Orioles.
New York gained a game in the East standings on Monday with an 8-5 win over Baltimore combined with Boston’s 6-1 loss to Toronto. It’s the closest the Yankees have been to the Red Sox since they were three games behind after April 21.
The 3 1/2-game margin also represents New York’s lead over Detroit for the wild card after the Tigers fell 6-5 in 11 innings at Cleveland on Monday. The Yankees have won 10 of 12 since their wild card lead was cut to one game over Seattle after losing to the Mariners on Sept. 3.
“We’ve come too far and worked too hard to start counting your chips,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
The Yankees got good news on the bruised pinkie suffered by closer Mariano Rivera before Sunday’s 4-3 win in Boston. Rivera, who said the finger was sore, recorded the final out on Monday for his 29th save leaving him one shy of reaching 30 for the fifth straight season.
“It’s OK. Everything is good,” he said.
Derek Jeter singled and doubled on Monday, passing Bernie Williams for fourth place on the club’s career list with 2,337 hits. Jeter, who was the hero of Sunday’s victory at Boston with a three-run homer in the eighth inning off Curt Schilling, has three straight multihit games.
Mike Mussina (9-10, 5.28 ERA) makes his second start since a successful return to the rotation on Wednesday. Mussina yielded five hits over 5 2-3 scoreless innings in a 4-1 victory at Toronto - his first win after he was demoted to the bullpen following a three-start stretch from Aug. 16-27 in which he went 0-3 with a 17.69 ERA.
“It’s a lot more satisfying today, coming out of the game, than it was those other starts,” Mussina said. “When I look back on this year, those three games are probably going to ruin my year. I’ve got to live with that and move on from it.”
This is Mussina’s first start at Yankee Stadium since he was tagged for seven runs and nine hits over five innings of an 8-5 loss to Detroit that started his slide. It will also be his second start this year against the Orioles, who scored six runs four innings off him in his season debut on April 6. The Orioles won that game 6-4.
The right-hander is 9-6 with a 4.51 ERA in 21 starts against his former team, but 0-2 with a 9.18 ERA in his last four.
Baltimore’s Kevin Millar went 3-for-5 on Monday, improving to .391 (18-for-46) against the Yankees this season.
Jon Leicester (2-1, 6.32) makes his third start of the season for the Orioles after going 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in his first two. Leicester gave up four hits over 5 2-3 innings in a 3-0 victory over the Los Angeles Angels on Thursday.
He became Baltimore’s first starter to not give up a run since ace Erik Bedard held the Yankees scoreless on Aug. 15, a span of 25 games.
You keep your defense on their toes and they make great plays, and that’s what they did for me all night,” said Leicester, who’s never faced the Yankees. “That’s the way I pitch - just trying to throw strikes and get the early outs.”