Yankees Edge Orioles, Take Lead in AL East

Gil, Williams
Yankees centerfielder Bernie Williams crashes into Orioles catcher Geronimo Gil as he's called out, Wednesday. New York upends Baltimore, 2-1, to claim sole possession of first place in the A.L. East. (Joe Giza - Reuters)
By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 29, 2005

BALTIMORE, Sept. 28 -- He was rescued from the scrap heap that is the Colorado Rockies with a midseason trade, but in a sense it was he who rescued the team from the Bronx, the one with the championship banners and the Hall of Fame players. He was just Shawn Chacon, a middling pitcher with an unimpressive array of pitches on a last-place team in the worst division in baseball who had never pitched in a playoff game or even appeared in a September game that meant anything.

It was plain and simple luck that Chacon landed in New York. With yet another outstanding performance in the middle of a hotly contested pennant race, Chacon helped New York reclaim first place with a 2-1 win Wednesday that also has ensured the Yankees will, at worst, be tied for the lead when they head to Fenway Park for a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox this weekend.

It seems inconceivable that the Yankees have had to rely so heavily on Chacon, who allowed just one run in 6 2/3 innings Wednesday, when their rotation is filled with so many high-priced, big-name players.

"I'm getting an opportunity to show that I can pitch and pitch in big games," Chacon said. "That's all you can ask as an athlete, a chance to do big things."

It was left to Chacon to try to hold down Baltimore's offense, which scored 17 runs Tuesday. If not for Javy Lopez, perhaps Chacon would have done it completely. The Baltimore catcher's home run to left field in the second inning was the only run that Chacon allowed Wednesday, and the only run he's allowed in the past 22 1/3 innings.

"Without Chacon and [pitcher Aaron] Small," third baseman Alex Rodriguez said, "we're probably 10 games out."

Early in the game the Yankees could not touch Orioles starter Daniel Cabrera, who can be devastating at times. But in the sixth inning, with one out, Rodriguez hit what appeared to be a slider over the outside part of the plate for a line drive home run, his 47th of the season, over the center field wall. As he rounded first, Rodriguez slapped his hands together in celebration, almost in the face of first baseman Chris Gomez, and continued to pump his fist while nearing second base.

"I'm not too sure how many people hit that home run," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "Looked like he was trying to hit the ball the other way, but he's so strong."

It was Rodriguez's first RBI of the game, but second of the night. Before the game Rodriguez was awarded an RBI after the official scorer changed a ruling from Tuesday's game. These slight details could prove important for Rodriguez, who is trying to build a case for the American League's most valuable player award. Wednesday's home run, which put Rodriguez ahead of Joe DiMaggio for most hit by a Yankees right-handed batter in a season, will also help.

A humbled Rodriguez said he lamented not meeting DiMaggio, though he had an opportunity to do so in the late '90s. Both DiMaggio and Rodriguez were members of the same country club and one day the Yankee Clipper showed up. Rodriguez saw him from a distance but hesitated approaching him.

"I kept trying to build the courage to go up to him," Rodriguez said. "But I couldn't build up the courage to bother him."

New York took a 2-1 lead in the seventh when Derek Jeter grounded a single past the diving Gomez, scoring Jorge Posada. The Yankees were denied an opportunity to increase their lead when Bernie Williams was called out at home while trying to score on a Rodriguez's flyout. It appeared on replays that home plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt made the wrong call.

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