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Yanks smash four homers, gain a half-game in AL East race

The SportsXchange

MINNEAPOLIS -- T-shirts that say "AL East Champions" aren't available for New York Yankees fans just yet, but the team sent several souvenirs into the Target Field bleachers Monday night.

The Yankees blasted four home runs and got six shutout innings from Andy Pettitte in a 6-3 win over the Minnesota Twins.

Coupled with the Orioles splitting a home doubleheader with the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees gained a half-game on Baltimore, and they now lead the division by 1 1/2 games with nine remaining.

"Any time you can pick that up, it's great," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "We've been so close for really since about September 1. So any day you can do that, it's great."

Pettitte, pitching in his 500th career game, allowed seven hits and improved his season record to 5-3. Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez all cleared the fence against Twins starter Liam Hendriks (1-8), who pitched into the seventh inning.

"They swung the bats extremely well tonight and took advantage of the pitches I left up," Hendriks said. "I went back and looked at the video, and all four of those home runs were pretty much in the same spot. One changeup and three fastballs, they were all up and away, and they took advantage of them."

Rookie shortstop Pedro Florimon provided one of the home team's only highlights, hitting his first career home run in the eighth inning off Yankees reliever Cory Wade. Minnesota got two more in the ninth, with two outs, when pinch hitter Chris Parmelee bounced a triple off the wall in deep center, scoring Justin Morneau and Ryan Doumit.

Twins slugger Josh Willingham, who has a career-best 35 home runs this season, went 0-for-3 and left the game early with a left shoulder strain after jumping in a failed attempt to catch Chavez's home run ball. He will undergo an MRI exam Tuesday and is listed as day-to-day.

Pettitte was making his second start since coming off the 60-day disabled list after recovering from a broken left ankle. He is undefeated in his last 12 starts against the Twins.

"I never really throw shutout ball," Pettitte said. "I usually give up one run or two, even when I'm pitching really well, so anytime I can throw zeros up, it's really nice."

Derek Jeter had a single in the ninth, extending his season-best hitting streak to 18 games.

The Yankees got off to a fast start, pouncing on Hendriks immediately. Jeter walked to start the game, advanced to third on Ichiro Suzuki's double off the right field wall and scored on Robinson Cano's RBI groundout.

Ichiro wasn't stranded for long, as Swisher blasted a home run into the right field seats for a 3-0 lead.

Minnesota threatened in the first, loading the bases with one out after Denard Span and Ben Revere singled and Willingham walked. But Pettitte struck out Morneau, then coaxed a grounder out of Doumit to end the threat.

New York tacked on another run with an exclamation point in the fourth when Granderson launched a high shot 437 feet into the upper deck in right field, making it 4-0.

"Tonight we saw what happens when you get too many balls over the middle part of the plate," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "They end up flying an awful long way, and that's kind of what hurt Liam all night long. They hurt him in the first inning, and he had a few good innings where he made some nice pitches, but ultimately he kept getting the ball up, and they kept putting it in the seats, and you get deep in a hole."

In the home half of the fourth, the Twins were foiled by sharp defense. Doumit doubled and came digging for home on Jamey Carroll's two-out single up the middle, but Granderson fired a laser from short center field to catcher Russell Martin, who caught Doumit on the left shoulder with a sweep tag.

"They know how to play the game. That's the bottom line," Girardi said. "It's crunch time, and these guys are rising up for us. That's what you talk about sometimes with experience, how important it is."

NOTES: Twins reliever Matt Capps, activated off the disabled list before the game, pitched a scoreless ninth inning, allowing two hits. He had been out since July 16 due to inflammation in his right shoulder. ... Granderson's fourth-inning homer was his 40th of the season. He hit a career-best 41 last season. ... The Twins honored paralyzed high school hockey player Jack Jablonski before the game, inviting the teen to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and presenting the family with a check for $10,000 to help with medical expenses. ... Ibanez finished 2-for-4, and he is 7-for-12 with three homers in his last three games.
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