NEW YORK – Hoping to begin a long climb back into the AL East race, the New York Yankees took a crucial step in the right direction Monday night.
Alex Rodriguez homered for the third straight game and Chien-Ming Wang stymied Boston, sending the Yankees to a 6-2 victory that moved them within 9 1/2 games of the division-leading Red Sox, who still own the best record in the major leagues at 30-14.
“Everything is important from now on. We don’t have the luxury to throw games away,” Rodriguez said.
Jason Giambi snapped a 1-for-26 slide with an upper-deck homer and leadoff batter Johnny Damon got the Yankees started all game against his former team. New York improved to 2-5 this year against its biggest rival, with both wins coming vs. knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.
“We’re working our way out of this hole,” Giambi said. “I hope that as this weather warms up, so does the offense.”
Building on a crisp victory the night before over the Mets that allowed them to avoid a Subway Series sweep, the patient Yankees (20-23) drew eight walks and ran on Wakefield all night. New York had five two-out RBIs, and the Red Sox went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Robinson Cano hit a two-run triple and Damon finished with three singles, a walk and two stolen bases.
“His body just looked like it was electric,” manager Joe Torre said.
After struggling previously against Boston, Wang (3-3) changed his approach, throwing more soft sliders and changeups to go with his hard sinker.
He yielded two runs and seven hits in 6 1-3 innings to win his second consecutive start, becoming the first Yankees pitcher with three wins this season. He left to a huge ovation from the spirited crowd of 55,078 and tipped his cap as he neared the dugout.
“All he did was keep them off balance,” pitching coach Ron Guidry said. “Give ‘em something different.”
Scott Proctor escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth on a nice play by Cano at second base, and Kyle Farnsworth finished up.
Wakefield (4-5) walked five in five innings and served up both New York homers. Once a befuddling matchup for the Yankees, the right-hander fell to 1-7 with a 6.00 ERA in his past nine starts against them beginning May 27, 2005.
He walked six in 5 1-3 innings during his other start against New York this season, a 3-1 loss on April 28 at Yankee Stadium.
“I tried my best to grind it out, but I never had it tonight,” Wakefield said.
Kevin Youkilis doubled in the fifth to extend his hitting streak to a career-best 14 games and scored when David Ortiz followed with a double, knocking the ball out of shortstop Derek Jeter’s glove on a headfirst slide. Wang avoided further damage by retiring personal nemesis Manny Ramirez and J.D. Drew.
Bobby Abreu got a two-out rally started in the bottom half with a single and a stolen base. Giambi walked and hustled home from first on his aching left foot when Cano tripled to left-center, making it 6-1.
“We’re getting more comfortable – especially the thing that deserted us, which was the offense,” Torre said. “We won two in a row. We haven’t done this in a while. It’s not something we usually trumpet, but we haven’t done this a lot.”
Rodriguez hit his major league-leading 18th homer with Damon aboard in the first, a long drive to left into Boston’s bullpen adjacent to Monument Park.
Before hitting three home runs in three days, Rodriguez connected only once in 22 games from April 23 until May 19.
“Alex seems to be back,” Torre said.
Jeter’s two-out error loaded the bases in the second and Wang went to 3-1 on Youkilis before striking him out.
Batting seventh in his first start since last Thursday, Giambi hit a solo shot in the second for his sixth homer this season and first since May 3 at Texas.
“It felt a ton better since I got the orthotics,” Giambi said, referring to his foot. “It felt comfortable just to be in the box. I just felt like I couldn’t push off. It was nice to be able to swing and run the bases a little.”
Cano doubled and scored when Jeter extended his hitting streak to 16 games with a single, making him 13-for-20 (.650) this year with two outs and runners in scoring position for a total of 15 RBIs.
Ortiz’s sacrifice fly off Mike Myers cut it to 6-2 in the seventh.
“Nothing’s going to be easy,” Ortiz said. “We’ve still got 120-something games left. We’ve got to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”