All that was missing was some bunting, cooler temperatures and a ceremonial first pitch.
With little to play for but setting records, the New York Yankees and their fans showed Thursday night they're ready for the playoffs to start -- right now.
Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez struck out 13 and pitched two-hit ball for 8 1/3 innings as the Yankees extended their winning streak to eight games with a 2-0 victory over the Texas Rangers.
A raucous crowd of 53,835 was into every pitch and made it feel like October. And the Yankees, on pace to smash the record for wins in a season, responded with yet another victory, and this one over a quality team.
"I think everyone has got caught up in what's going on here," New York manager Joe Torre said.
Hernandez (8-3) was making his first start against the Rangers, and he kept the AL West leaders off balance all night. He struck out Juan Gonzalez and Mike Simms three times each, mixing his fastball with a nasty slider.
Hernandez set a Yankees rookie record for strikeouts in a game, bettering Stan Bahnsen's mark of 12 against Boston on Aug. 1, 1968.
"It could be his best performance of the year," Torre said. "He was changing speeds and changing pitches. He did a terrific, terrific job."
The Cuban right-hander left to a standing ovation after walking Gonzalez in the ninth. Mariano Rivera closed with hitless relief for his 31st save.
Hernandez said he had to be prompted by teammates to make a curtain call as the crowd chanted, "Duque, Duque."
"I wn 129 games pitching in Cuba, and have pitched in some very big games, and this one was big," said Hernandez, New York's No. 5 starter.
Rick Helling (15-7) didn't allow baseball's best team very much, limiting the Yankees to three hits in his third complete game. Helling retired 14 straight in one stretch, allowed just one hit after the first inning and finished with eight strikeouts.
"They find a way to score runs tonight and that was enough, the way he (Hernandez) pitched," said Helling. "You've got to give them credit, that's why they're a great team."
Gonzalez, baseball's RBI leader with 119, had missed the last three games with a stiff neck and was only cleared to play following pregame batting practice.
Hernandez, whose previous high was nine strikeouts, got No. 10 in the fifth inning when he fanned Royce Clayton. He struck out the side in the second and fifth innings, and ended Texas' best scoring chance by striking out Ivan Rodriguez with the bases loaded in the fourth.
In 25 1-3 innings in his last three starts, Hernandez has allowed just two runs, nine hits and struck out 28.
"He made a lot of pitches different," Rodriguez said. "He threw over the top, he threw three-quarters. He threw from the side, he can even throw the slider over the top. ... He's got so many releases, it's hard to see."
With the win, New York (88-29) moved 59 games over .500 for the first time this season and improved to 46-8 at Yankee Stadium. The 1939 Yankees hold the club record for most games over .500, finishing 106-45.
"They win them so fast now," Texas manager Johnny Oates said, "that you can't even count them."
Bernie Williams' hitting streak reached 15 games for New York.
The Yankees extended their major league record for the most consecutive games with a lead to 42 by scoring a run in the first inning. But New York ran itself out of a chance to score more.
Derek Jeter was thrown out trying to steal third for the second out, and Tino Martinez got hung up between first and second after driving in Paul O'Neill.
Jeter's sacrifice fly scored Scott Brosius in the third to put New York up 2-0. Brosius had singled leading off and moved up on Helling's wild pitch.
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