The New York Yankees got another step closer to the top of the AL East.
Pettitte earned his 200th win, Rivera escaped a bases-loaded jam in the ninth inning and the Yankees edged the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 Wednesday night to complete a three-game sweep that pulled them within 1 1/2 games of first-place Boston.
“We’re right there and I mean we want to win it,” Pettitte said. “We would like to win this division but just thankful we’re playing good.”
“We spent an early portion of this year trying to find our way,” Torre said, “and now that when we come to the ballpark we expect to win, it’s a nice feeling.”
The Yankees (88-64), a season-high 24 games over .500, also opened a 5 1/2 -game lead over Detroit (83-70) for the wild card. Now it’s the division race that is capturing more of their attention as the season winds down.
Torre said he heard the crowd roar in the ninth when the scoreboard showed the Red Sox were losing at Toronto, and Pettitte acknowledged checking on the Boston game.
It’s the closest New York has been to first place since the Yankees trailed by one game before play on April 20. They began play on May 30 down by 14 1/2 games to Boston.
“Four months ago, nobody gave us credit. And now we’re close to winning the division,” Rivera said.
Pettitte (14-8) got the first two outs of the eighth before giving way to rookie Joba Chamberlain, who had never entered in the middle of an inning. Pettitte trotted off the field to a thunderous ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd and doffed his cap as he reached the dugout. Chamberlain struck out Mora, pumping his fist as he walked off the mound.
Rivera worked the ninth, allowing a bloop, one-out double to Markakis. He retired Kevin Millar on a flyout, loaded the bases with walks to Aubrey Huff and Ramon Hernandez, then threw a called third strike past pinch-hitter Scott Moore.
Rivera got his 30th save in 33 chances, reaching 30 saves for the fifth straight season and the 10th time in 11 years. He has saved 49 of Pettitte’s wins, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“I’ve got 200 wins now because he’s as great of a closer as he is,” Pettitte said. “I’ve been very fortunate to be on a great team for a long time and I wouldn’t want anyone else closing out my games.”
The slumping Orioles have lost 22 of their last 28 games. They scored just six runs in the three games against the Yankees.
“We fully expected to win tonight,” manager Dave Trembley said. “It didn’t happen, but not because we didn’t put forth the effort.”
Pettitte allowed at least one runner in each of the first seven innings but his defense responded with three double plays, including one that ended the fifth and led to Jay Payton’s second ejection of the series.
Millar led off the inning with a single. He was erased when Huff grounded into a fielder’s choice but Hernandez singled to give Baltimore runners on first and second.
Payton then worked the count full before he looked at a called third strike. He wheeled around and started arguing with plate umpire Mike Reilly as catcher Jorge Posada threw out Hernandez at second to end the inning. Reilly then ejected Payton, who threw his bat and helmet down as he stomped off toward the dugout.
Pettitte allowed seven hits, struck out four and walked two to improve to 10-2 with a 3.23 ERA in 14 starts since the All-Star break. He is the 27th left-hander to reach 200 wins.
“I think he deserves it,” Rivera said. “He’s a classy guy that you want to give everything that you got to play behind him.”
Pettitte spent the first nine years of his career with New York before signing as a free agent with Houston before the 2004 season. He rejoined the Yankees as a free agent in the offseason.
“He’s earned his stripes,” Torre said.
Matsui hit a two-out drive to right in the second to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. It was his 25th home run of the season and second in three days after entering the series in a 5-for-43 (.116) skid.
Mientkiewicz led off the fifth with a base hit and advanced to second on Derek Jeter’s one-out single. He took third on Bobby Abreu’s grounder, and Brian Burres (6-6) threw a wild pitch with Alex Rodriguez at the plate.
“I was trying to throw a fastball high,” Burres said. “I just wish I wouldn’t have thrown it that high. I was trying to throw a heater up and threw a little too up.”
A-Rod then flied out to the warning track, ending the inning. He finished 0-for-4 and is in a 3-for-29 skid with 12 strikeouts.
An MRI exam of Yankees 1B Jason Giambi’s bruised right foot came back negative. He is day to day. … It was Payton’s third ejection of the season and the ninth for Baltimore overall. … Pettitte’s wife and parents were on hand for the milestone win.