Yankees 8, Orioles 4

The New York Yankees appeared remarkably calm for a team whose season comes down to just three -- or possibly four -- games. They strolled into Baltimore on Monday tied with Boston for first place in the AL East. After an 8-4 win against the Orioles on Thursday, completing a series in which the New Yorkers won three of four, they left for Boston with a one-game lead, confident and focused on their next task.

As for the Orioles? Their season ends with three games at Tampa Bay, although it seems as if it was over long ago. In their past 11 games -- all against the Yankees and Red Sox -- they went 1-10.

"We're happy because we took care of business here," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "Now the stage is set. We expected to win today. We expected [Boston] to win today."

The Yankees watched the Red Sox's dramatic win Thursday in the comfort of the visitors' clubhouse. Some caught it on televisions throughout the room, others seemed as if they couldn't be bothered.

The Yankees' destruction of the Orioles on Thursday was quick and machine-like. Jason Giambi's three-run home run in the first inning -- onto Eutaw Street -- was the first blow that led to an 8-0 lead. Afterward, as players showered, the Red Sox rallied from a 4-1 deficit to draw even at 4-4 with David Ortiz up in the ninth with two men on. Yankees pitcher Mike Mussina emerged, checked out the TV, and said, "Uh-oh." Moments later, Ortiz singled and Boston was, again, just a game behind the Yankees heading into the weekend's big three-game series in Fenway.

"Seems like it was inevitable," Rodriguez said. "You knew that it would come to this."

If the Red Sox win two of three, they will force a one-game playoff Monday in New York.

New York has set its rotation. Chien-Ming Wang pitches on Friday and Randy Johnson and Mussina follow. The Yankees also are fortunate they did not have to pitch Mariano Rivera in the blowout win against the Orioles.

"The ballclub seems to have a great deal of confidence right now," Yankees Manager Joe Torre said. "We have work to do, three games to go. We hold our own future in our hands and we couldn't be going there under better circumstances."

It's unlikely the Red Sox will see Aaron Small, who improved to 10-0 on Thursday by beating the Orioles, the first Yankee pitcher in history to start his Pinstriped career with that mark.

Torre admitted that prior to the season he had never heard of the 33-year-old Small, who began the year in Columbus.

"It's a rewarding feeling right now," Small, who allowed just two runs in 62/3 innings, said. "It can't get any better than this but I hope it does."

It couldn't have started any worse for Orioles pitcher Erik Bedard. He was not sharp, walking Yankees leadoff hitter Derek Jeter to start the game. Rodriguez followed with a single and then Giambi launched his blast onto Eutaw, just the 38th time a ball had landed there and the first this season.

The Yankees added another run on Ruben Sierra's single. New York finally knocked Bedard out of the game in the second with an RBI single by Gary Sheffield.

Scott Proctor finished the game for the Yankees and Small, the most unlikeliest of stars, had his place in Yankee history secured. Now New York heads to Boston hoping to make even more history.

"It's going to be nuts," Torre said. "It's always nuts when we play the Red Sox."

Yankees' Jason Giambi trots around the bases after hitting a three-run home run in the first off Orioles' Erik Bedard.