Small won his second straight start since the Yankees brought him up from the minors, pitching a career-high seven innings and getting four RBIs from Gary Sheffield in a 6-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Thursday.
“There’s times I looked around, but never in awe,” Small said. “In Columbus, we had about 1,200 people and here we had, what, about 50,000, so it’s a little different.”
Small (2-0) hadn’t started a major league game since 1996 before last week, when the 33-year-old right-hander helped New York to an 8-4 victory at Texas— his first big league win in seven years.
He was given a 3-0 lead against the Twins, wasted it, then retired his final 12 batters after Jacque Jones’ tying double in the fourth. He gave up three runs and six hits, walked none and struck out one, starting 16 of 26 batters with strikes.
“Until we see something that makes us uncomfortable, you certainly want to keep looking at him,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “Right now he seems very confident in what he does, and it’s taken him a long time. And guys who stay with it to this point, the determination is there, the know-how, the intelligence on how to pitch.”
Small mixed a fastball and slider with a changeup that was taught to him by Doug Linton. Small has just five starts among his 149 big league appearances and had pitched in just eight major league games since 1998 before this month, when injuries to Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano and Chien-Ming Wang forced the Yankees to search for starters.
Al Leiter and Small have two of the spots until the return of Pavano and Jaret Wright, who has been sidelined since April. Later Thursday, New York acquired right-hander Shawn Chacon from Colorado for minor league pitchers Ramon Ramirez and Eduardo Sierra, and the Yankees hope Chacon can pitch Saturday against the Angels between starts by Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson.
“We’ve been scuffling a little bit with trying to find a rotation,” pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre said. “To be honest with you, my rotation doesn’t go any farther than tomorrow.”
Tom Gordon pitched the eighth, and Mariano Rivera finished for his 26th save — all in a row since failing in his first two chances of the season. New York closed within 1 1/2 games of idle first-place Boston in the AL East.
“We can get it done regardless who’s out of the lineup,” Sheffield said. “I don’t know what the rotation is. I don’t know who’s pitching or when.”
Sheffield hooked a three-run homer just inside the left-field foul pole in the first inning off Joe Mays (5-6).
“I didn’t think there was any way that ball was going to stay fair,” Mays said. “I made a good pitch, down and in.”
After Minnesota tied it on Luis Rodriguez’s two-run single in the second and Jones’ double, Sheffield put the Yankees ahead for good with a run-scoring single in the fifth. He is batting an AL-best .396 (38-for-96) with runners in scoring position this year.
“He has no fear,” Torre said.
Mays lost his third straight start, giving up six runs and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings. He dropped to 1-7 against the Yankees, including 0-4 in New York.
As camp groups in bright orange, yellow, blue and white shirts looked on from the upper deck, New York’s defense provided some lessons. When Rodriguez hit his second-inning single, he got trapped between first and second, and Mike Redmond wound up getting tagged out between third and the plate for the final out of the inning in a 9-3-4-2-5 rundown.
With Jones on second and two outs in the fourth, Derek Jeter ranged deep in the hole at shortstop to get Redmond’s grounder, jumped from the edge of the outfield grass and easily got the out at first.
Jones twice had trouble in right field. In the fifth, he allowed Robinson Cano’s liner to go over his head for a double, and Cano scored on Sheffield’s single for a 4-3 lead.
“It was hit at me,” Jones said. “I took a step, it broke the other way.”
With the bases loaded in the sixth, Jones decided not to try for a diving catch on Cano’s broken-bat drive into short right, and the ball fell for a two-run single.
“I felt if I dove for it and missed it, everybody would have scored,” Jones said.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire disagreed with that decision.
“Our thought in the dugout was you have to dive,” he said. “We need that play.”
Brown went on the disabled list for the 14th time. He has a lumbar strain and will go California to be examined by Dr. Robert Watkins. … Minnesota is 0-5-1 in road series since winning two of three at Arizona from June 7-9. … Cano had three hits, raising his average to .313. … The Yankees have won 20 of their last 25 regular-season games against the Twins, including 11 of 12 in New York.