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Rocket Returns, Lifts Yanks


It didn't turn out to be such a bad road trip for the New York Yankees, after all.

The two-time defending World Series champions may have only won six of 13 games over the past two weeks, but they got back Roger Clemens and Orlando Hernandez and only lost a half-game in the standings while going through their most difficult stretch of the season.

Clemens (5-6) returned from the disabled list Sunday to pitch seven impressive innings in a 5-2 victory over Tampa Bay. Hernandez rejoined the rotation and stopped the Devil Rays on Saturday.

Suddenly, New York looks like it's back on solid footing.

"We really don't focus on what the other teams are doing. If we win, we'll be in a good position. You can't sit here and start looking at the scoreboard," shortstop Derek Jeter said after Sunday's win moved the second-place Yankees within one game of AL East-leading Toronto.

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  • "Right now, we're in July," Jeter added. "If we play our type of baseball, we're capable of beating anyone. If we don't, anyone is capable of beating us."

    David Justice drove in two runs for his first RBIs in a New York uniform and Scott Brosius hit a two-run homer off Steve Trachsel (6-8).

    It was the pitching of Clemens, though, that gave the Yankees a lift.

    The five-time Cy Young Award winner, sidelined nearly three weeks with a strained right groin, gave up one run and three hits. He struck out five and walked two to move ahead of Bob Gibson into 38th on the all-time lit with 252 victories.

    "I saw the aura in walking around the clubhouse early. You could just see he was stalking and just seemed very focused," manager Joe Torre said. "He had his game face on and it just looked like he was anxious to get out there."

    Torre read Clemens perfectly.

    "I'm pretty much the same all the time. I'm always revved up pretty good. I just wanted to make sure I was loose," Clemens said.

    "It's good to go out there and be able to concentrate on throwing strikes and getting guys out instead of worrying about what's going on in your lower half and thinking that the very next pitch might tear it completely apart, and then it's going to cost me months."

    Rookie Randy Choate allowed an eighth-inning run and Mariano Rivera got the last four outs for his 18th save. The Devil Rays finished with four hits.

    Justice, obtained Thursday from the Cleveland Indians for Ricky Ledee and two players to be named, got his first hit as Yankee a single that gave New York a 1-0 lead in the second. He grounded out in the third, driving in another run to make it 3-0.

    The victory was the second straight for the Yankees, who are 2-0 in July after going 10-15 in June for their losing month since August 1996.

    Saturday's victory was marred by a fight between catcher Jorge Posada and Tampa Bay's Bobby Smith, however there was no carryover Sunday.

    Smith had an RBI single off Clemens in the sixth. The Devil Rays also scored in the eighth when Bubba Trammell tripled and scored on Choate's error on Fred McGriff's grounder.

    Clemens had not pitched since being removed after one inning of an outing against the Boston Red Sox on June 13. The Yankees also welcomed back Hernandez (sprained right elbow) to the rotation Saturday and return home from a season-long, 13-game road trip with three victories in their last four games.

    "We've been looking to put something together. Hopefully, this will start us into a good streak," Torre said.

    Bernie Williams, who was 3-for-4, hit safely and scored at least one run in every game on the trip.

    Brosius ended Trachsel's streak of 39 innings without allowing a homer, and Clemens recorded his 3,400th career strikeout when he fanned Steve Cox with runners at second and third with two outs in the third inning.

    Trachsel, who before Sunday had allowed just one run in 22 innings against the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox, yielded nine hits, walked three and struck out two in five innings. Since winning consecutive 1-0 decisions over Pedro Martinez at Fenway Park and Hernandez at Yankee Stadium, the right-hander is 3-6 in 10 starts.

    Notes

  • Torre hopes Posada doesn't draw a suspension for his involvement in Saturday's fight. "I have a great deal of respect for (baseball disciplinarian) Frank Robinson, but I certainly would like to have him remember how many fights he was in and not be suspended." Devil Rays manager Larry Rothschild said he didn't feel either player should be suspended
  • Yankees 2B Chuck Knoblauch missed his second straight game because of a left ear infection. He was replaced by Jose Vizcaino, who went 0-for-4 after going 2-for-3 with a double and triple and two runs scored Saturday.

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