The New York Yankees are taking a quick break from their division rivalries to play one last interleague game.
The Yankees go for their fifth straight win on Thursday when they visit the Pittsburgh Pirates in a makeup for a June 26 rainout.
New York (49-42) has played its last six games against AL East foes and will wrap up the first half of the season with three games at divisional opponent Toronto, starting on Friday. The stretch didn’t begin well, as the Yankees dropped the first two games in their four-game set with Boston.
However, the Yankees won the last two games of that series and swept two home games with major league-leading Tampa Bay, capped by Wednesday’s 10-inning, 2-1 victory. The winning streak has moved them to within 6 1/2 games of the first-place Rays and 4 1/2 of the second-place Red Sox.
“They know we’re still around. They know that,” closer Mariano Rivera said.
Bobby Abreu doubled home Derek Jeter with the deciding run Wednesday, when the Yankees got six strong innings from starter Sidney Ponson. New York has allowed just six runs during its winning streak and had a stretch of 17 consecutive scoreless innings snapped in the sixth inning.
“We could have easily slipped away,” said Jason Giambi, who had an RBI single. “It would have turned into a mountain, you know, if we would have got swept by Boston.”
A victory in this game would technically give the Yankees a series win against the Pirates (42-48). They lost the series opener 12-5 on June 24, but won 10-0 the following day.
Robinson Cano went 6-for-9 with a homer and two RBIs in the previous two games between the teams, while Abreu was 4-for-9 with two homers and six RBIs. Ryan Doumit was 5-for-9 with a homer and two RBIs for the Pirates.
Pittsburgh failed to complete a three-game sweep on Wednesday, falling 6-4 at home to Houston. Nate McLouth scored two runs in the loss and became the first Pirates player with three doubles in a game since Xavier Nady on Aug. 4, 2006.
“We fought back and tied the game. I thought we were right there,” manager John Russell said.
The Pirates draw a tough starter Thursday, as they square off against Mike Mussina (11-6, 3.64 ERA).
Mussina, who has already matched his win total from last season, is trying to complete his best first half since he went 12-3 before the break in 2002. Still, the veteran right-hander failed to earn his first All-Star game selection since 1999, when he was with Baltimore.
“I’ve done pretty much what I wanted to do this year,” said Mussina, who was demoted to the bullpen while struggling last season. “I got out there and proved I could pitch again, or that I could still pitch and everybody thought I couldn’t. That’s really all I wanted to do.”
Mussina threw six scoreless innings in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Boston. He has gone at least six innings in seven straight starts.
Mussina’s only previous start against Pittsburgh came on June 14, 2005, when he threw a five-hitter in a 9-0 win at Yankee Stadium.
Pittsburgh counters with Paul Maholm (5-5, 4.05), who is 3-0 with a 2.74 ERA over his last seven starts. The left-hander lasted eight innings for the fourth time this season on Saturday, but didn’t get a decision in the Pirates’ 2-1 loss at Milwaukee.
Maholm lost to the Yankees on June 9, 2007, allowing five runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 9-3 defeat at New York.