Yankees 11, Orioles 3

There are times when you wonder if everyone, including Mother Nature, is a New York Yankees fan. While rain pelted New England nonstop, canceling a Red Sox game, a slight drizzle arrived and then subsided in Baltimore, allowing the Orioles and Yankees to play the first game of their four-game series.

It seems unimportant that one of the teams fighting for the American League East played while the other didn't. They'll finish having played the same amount of games regardless. But it is important in that the Yankees will be able to keep their rotation intact for their weekend series in Boston, while the Red Sox now adjust. Curses, anyone?

"If we would have been rained out it would have thrown a monkey wrench in our plans," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "That's the only thing you worry about this last week."

To the mound trotted Yankees pitcher Randy Johnson in the bottom of the first inning, slim and strong, and not one bit bothered by the rain, save for a few moments when he had to clean his cleats after slipping on the mound, causing him to loft a ball into the grass on the foul side of the third-base line. It was his only slip-up.

Once again, as he did last week, Johnson easily downed the Orioles in a 11-3 Yankees win, meaning he will be able to pitch in turn on Saturday against the Red Sox in Fenway Park. The Red Sox, meanwhile, must push Curt Schilling to Sunday and there are no assurances that by the end of the weekend that final game will mean anything in part because the Yankees can pad their record with the three games remaining against the listless Orioles, losers of nine in a row. The Yankees are a half-game ahead of the Red Sox with six games to play.

"It's no longer a marathon," Johnson said. "It's a sprint now. Every game is critical."

Before anyone should think that it's impossible for Baltimore to lose the next three games, running their streak to 12 games, the Orioles had a similar losing run last year. Baltimore is clearly a worse team than last year. It will finish with a worse record this season.

It has become apparent a long and controversial season has taken its toll on the Orioles. They committed two errors and once again played a sloppy game. Their loss on Monday, coupled with the Kansas City Royals' win against the Minnesota Twins, means the Orioles will wake up on Tuesday with the worst record in the majors in the second half of the season.

This game ended, for the most part, in the fourth inning, when the Yankees scored six runs against Baltimore starter Rodrigo Lopez, who seemed infuriated with each walk. In that inning he had three of them, each runner scoring. The epic blast that inning was a three-run home run by Jason Giambi to center field, giving the Yankees a 6-0 lead.

It might be that Lopez was undone when he began to pitch the first inning at 8:39 p.m. then had to stop only 10 minutes later after rain started falling heavily. The game and Lopez resumed at 9:05 p.m. in the middle of the first inning.

"It was kind of hard to deal with, especially the humidity after," Lopez said. "I thought I was going to be cool and it was pretty humid out there. It seemed like the first inning I threw two or three innings warming up."

Meanwhile, Johnson was never delayed. Mother Nature must wear a black hat with an intertwined "N" and "Y" on the front. Johnson pitched just six innings, allowing only four hits. He threw only 87 pitches, leaving him rested for Saturday's game against the Red Sox.

"I was able to get my pitches in and didn't have to extend myself, which is nice," Johnson said. "I was just glad that it didn't get postponed. I warmed up and I warmed up good."

This type of performance is becoming typical for Johnson this time of year. Since 1993 he is 36-4 in September and has won four games this month.

"Honestly, I've never thought much about that," Johnson said. "It's nice to know. Maybe we should start the season in September next year."

By Tuesday evening the Yankees will know how much Boston's rained out game will have helped. It will become evident whether the person in charge of luck is a Yankees fan, too.

Jason Giambi smacks a three-run home run off the Orioles' Rodrigo Lopez, giving New York's Randy Johnson all the support he needed.