Diamondbacks 6, Yankees 1

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PHOENIX (AP)—Knuckleballer Steve Sparks succeeded where so many other pitchers have failed this season. He shut down the New York Yankees.

Sparks allowed one run in seven innings in the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 6-1 victory Thursday night to get his first win in eight starts. He allowed three hits and walked seven.

The only run he gave up was Alex Rodriguez’s 456-homer into the restaurant on the second deck at Bank One Ballpark.

The Yankees are no stranger to knuckleballers. They face Tim Wakefield of Boston regularly, and saw Sparks when he was with Detroit.

“You just swing hard and hope you hit it,” said Gary Sheffield, who was 0-for-4. “The thing is you don’t know if the ball is going to go up, down or in. You just try to pick a spot and hope he comes there.”

Sparks said he would rather walk a Yankee than throw something over the middle of the plate.

“My objective usually is to try to get ahead,” Sparks said. “But with these guys, there are so many boppers in their lineup you don’t want to just throw some `get-me-over’ knuckleball early in the count. For the most part, I tried to throw my best knuckleball early.”

Juan Brito became the third Arizona player to hit his first major league homer in the last three games.

“It’s sort of a dubious honor that we seem to bestow on ourselves,” New York manager Joe Torre said. “One each game, but we won two out of three so I guess we’re fortunate.”

Brito, who also had an RBI single in Arizona’s four-run eighth inning, had the tough job of catching Sparks’ knuckler.

“A great job by Juan Brito behind the plate and at the plate,” said Arizona manager and ex-catcher Bob Brenly said. “It’s not easy catching that knuckleball. He battled back there.”

New York had a four-game winning streak snapped in losing for just the fourth time in 22 games and second in 19 interleague games dating to last season.

Brito’s line drive off Jon Lieber just cleared the wall in left-center to put Arizona up 2-1 in the seventh. Steve Finley’s double and Danny Bautista’s RBI double made it 3-1 with no outs in the eighth to end Lieber’s night. Shea Hillenbrand doubled in two runs and Brito singled in another to make it 6-1.

Lieber (5-4) allowed four runs on nine hits, striking out four and walking one in seven-plus innings.

“This is probably the best I’ve felt in a while honestly,” Lieber said. “I really felt I had good life on the baseball and was able to keep it down a little bit better than in previous starts.”

He went into the eighth with his team trailing only 2-1.

“In a game like this, you have to make pitches late in the game, and I didn’t do that,” Lieber said. “That’s the frustrating part.”

Sparks (3-4) won despite throwing more balls (60) than strikes (55). Former starter Elmer Dessens retired the heart of the Yankees’ order in the eighth, then pitched a scoreless ninth for his second save.

Rodriguez homered for the second straight night and reached base safely for the 53rd consecutive game. The last Yankees player to have a streak that long was Derek Jeter, who reached in the first 53 games of the 1999 season.

The Diamondbacks took their first lead of the series, 1-0, in the opening inning. Scott Hairston and Finley singled, putting runners at first and third. Hairston scored when Bautista bounced into a fielder’s choice.

Finley made a lunging stab of Jorge Posada’s drive to the wall about 410 feet into right-center in the fourth.

“I didn’t know if it was going to catch the overhang or not,” Finley said. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes in going to that wall. You kind of end up jumping too soon. I told myself, `You’re getting to the wall this time.’ And I got back there and luckily made the play.”

Bautista ran down Jeter’s deep drive in right field with runners at first and second to end the seventh.

“Some people who may not have seen those guys play out there before might have been surprised, but I wasn’t,” Brenly said. “We’ve seen Steve Finley do that here for years, and Danny Bautista very quietly is having himself a solidseason not only at the plate but out there with the glove.”


Arizona SS Alex Cintron was out of the lineup in favor of Olson. … The series drew 144,592, the second-largest attendance for a three-game series in the Diamondbacks’ seven-year history. … Lieber has issued four walks in 59 2-3 innings this season. … The Yankees lead the majors with 95 homers. …Arizona has committed six errors in its last two games.

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