Yankees 7, White Sox 5

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NEW YORK (AP)—The White Sox had scored two quick runs in the first inning, and another blowout in the Bronx seemed possible.

Then the Yankees beat up on rookie Neal Cotts for five runs in the bottom half, and Mike Mussina finally quieted those Chicago bats.

“After what happened the last two nights, it was a big deal to win this game,” Mussina said after pitching the Yankees past the White Sox 7-5 Thursday to prevent a three-game Chicago sweep.

New York, pummeled by a combined 24-4 in the first two games, headed to Boston for a weekend series with a 4 1/2 -game lead in the AL East. The second-place Red Sox have cut three games off their deficit in the past week.

In the Yankees’ clubhouse after the game, there seemed to be multiple exhales of relief.

“It was big,” Jason Giambi said. “Chicago’s been red hot playing against us.”

The White Sox, who began the day one game ahead of Kansas City in the AL Central, roughed up Roger Clemens and David Wells the previous two nights but couldn’t do the same to Mussina (15-7), who won for the fifth time in six decisions.

“They put three pretty good starters out there against us, and we did well. That’s a good sign,” White Sox manager Jerry Manuel said. “We’re still fighting and playing good baseball, and I feel good about that.”

With 30 games left in the regular season, the Yankees still are trying to find themselves. New York brought Jeff Weaver back from the minor leagues after the game, and he might take Wells’ spot in the rotation next week.

While the White Sox traveled to Detroit, trying to avoid losing 100 games before September, New York headed to Fenway Park, site of Raul Mondesi’s temper tantrum last month. The Yankees are an evolving team—seven of the current 25 players weren’t in the organization when the season began.

“You’ve got too many new players, that’s the problem,” Giambi said. “We kind of keep turning over the team. Everybody’s trying to find their role in the bullpen, Booney (Aaron Boone) is still getting comfortable. I think our best ball is yet to come.”

New York has never allowed double-digit runs in three straight games at Yankee Stadium, but when Carl Everett and Paul Konerko hit run-scoring singles in the first, that standard seemed to be in danger.

Cotts (1-1) then allowed his first five batters to score, giving up three hits and four walks. He lasted just eight batters, retiring only one, yet another of the rookies the Yankees have chewed up this year. Coming in, rookies were 2-10 with a 7.08 ERA against New York.

“It was probably just a bad day more than Yankee Stadium,” Cotts said. “I threw very good in the bullpen. I felt very confident going in. I just couldn’t throw the ball over the plate. I was disappointed in myself. I let the team down.”

Everett was caught stealing third base by John Flaherty, ending the first inning. That was the turning point.

Alfonso Soriano opened the bottom half with a double, two walks loaded the bases and Bernie Williams (3-for-25 coming in) singled in the first run. Ruben Sierra followed with a two-run single to left, and Williams scored from first when Carlos Lee allowed the ball to carom by for an error.

Hideki Matsui flied out (he’s in a 3-for-27 slide), but two more walks reloaded the bases and finished Cotts, who threw just 16 of 35 pitches for strikes. Flaherty followed with a sacrifice fly off Dan Wright for a 5-2 lead.

Everett, who tied a career high with four hits, homered leading off the fourth, but New York made it 6-3 in the sixth on a safety squeeze bunt by Flaherty.

Mussina, who took a comebacker by Everett off his left knee in the fifth, gave up three runs and eight hits in six innings. Jeff Nelson allowed a pair of eighth-inning runs on an RBI double by Everett and a run-scoring single to Konerko, but Soriano provided a cushion with a two-out, two-strike RBI single in the eighth off Damaso Marte.

Mariano Rivera got four outs for his 29th save in 35 chances, retiring Frank Thomas on a flyout with a runner on third to end it.

The Yankees’ minds quickly turned to Boston.

“Hopefully,” Giambi said, “we’ll go in there and step it up a notch andplay better baseball.”


Jose Contreras (4-1) pitches the opener against Derek Lowe (13-6). Andy Pettitte (16-7) goes Saturday against Pedro Martinez (10-3), and Clemens (12-8) pitches Sunday against Tim Wakefield (9-5) in what could be the final Fenway Park appearance of the Rocket’s career. … New York OF Dave Dellucci went on the DL, a day after he sprained his left ankle. … The Yankees rested Giambi (2-for-26, including 0-for-6 since he was hit on the right wrist Monday) and C Jorge Posada (0-for-13). … Everett had four hits for the second time thisseason, the 15th overall.

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