Big start for Yanks in AL East push

Friday night’s 10-3 victory at Fenway Park began a stretch of 15 consecutive games and 29 of 32 games for the Yankees against divisional opponents. If they are to make a move up the American League East standings, this is it.

Just a week ago, the Yankees were 11 ½ games out of first place. That number is down to 7 ½, and they are two games out of third place. The Red Sox’ loss shrunk their division lead to one games over the Rays. The teams in front of the Yankees have been wobbly lately while they have put up steam after an impressive, 5-2 homestand against the Tigers and Angels.

Clearly, the offensive muscle the Yankees have gotten from Alfonso Soriano is at the center of the resurgence after the dismal 2-5 trip through Los Angeles, San Diego and Chicago. Soriano kept up his torrid hitting Friday night with a three-run home run in the third inning that gave him 18 RBI in four games, a feat accomplished by only five other players in history, including Yankees Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Tony Lazzeri and Lou Gehrig. The others were Sammy Sosa and Hall of Famer Jim Bottomley.

When the Yankees acquired Soriano July 26 from the Cubs, I looked at his 51 RBI and figured there was no way he could get to 100 this year. Shows you what I know. Sori is up to 77 now, so a 100-RBI season is by no means out of the question with six weeks remaining.

The Yankees opened the scoring against Red Sox lefthander Felix Doubront with another RBI by Soriano on an infield single in the first inning. This was good news for Andy Pettitte, who has had a penchant for allowing runs in the first frame. At least this time Pettitte could take the mound with the lead. And the runs just kept coming.

Mark Reynolds marked his Yankees debut with a two-run homer in the second inning. Plucked off waivers from the Indians to platoon at first base with Lyle Overbay, Reynolds is one of those feast-and-famine players with 196 career home runs and 1,245 strikeouts. Reynolds has led the league in strikeouts four times and topped 200 Ks three times in his career. He has a power cut, however, and the Yankees have been looking for pop from the right side all year and didn’t have much of it until Soriano and Alex Rodriguez arrived. Reynolds added an RBI single in the ninth.

Preston Claiborne, a victim of baseball paperwork, was optioned to Triple A Scranton to create roster space for Reynolds. Claiborne proved a useful righthander in relief (0-1, 2.88 ERA, 33 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings), but he was the one to go because he had options left, unlike Joba Chamberlain (4.83 ERA), who had trouble protecting a seven-run lead in the ninth inning and needed relief himself.

The best pitching news was the work of Pettitte (8-9), who might have had a shutout if not for two errors by shortstop Eduardo Nunez that caused all three runs off Pettitte to be unearned. The victory was career No. 253, which tied Pettitte with Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell for 43rd place on the all-time list. Next up at No. 42 with 254 victories each are Hall of Famer Red Faber and Hall candidate Jack Morris.

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