CLEVELAND Joe Girardi's lineup was whole again, and the Yankees took over sole possession of first place.
But there might be some question about Girardi's rotation.
There's a surprise.
Andy Pettitte mostly cruised through five innings of Friday night's 3-1 win over the Indians at Progressive Field, but he was removed from the game with two men on and none out in the sixth. The reason announced was lower back stiffness.
Still, as they've done much of the last two-plus weeks in winning 13 of their last 16 games, the Yankees yawned away the adversity. They moved a half-game ahead of Boston, which lost to Toronto.
Alfredo Aceves allowed one of the runners he inherited from Pettitte (5-1) to score but pitched three scoreless innings, and Mariano Rivera earned his 10th save.
Offensively, the Yankees had just enough and were aided by the return of one of their leaders: Jorge Posada, who had been on the DL with a strained right hamstring since May 5. Friday night was the first time since June 22 of last year that Girardi could write Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui, all of whom have battled various injuries, in the same lineup.
Posada went 2-for-3, including a double, with a walk in his return.
"It is nice to have all three of them (Posada, Rodriguez and Matsui) because those are three bats that we've seen can hit the ball out of the ballpark at any time and change the complexion of the game," Girardi said before the game. "So to have most of our lineup back is really nice."
Posada, who went on the DL hitting .312 with five home runs and 20 RBIs, had a chance to make an immediate impact in the first, but he struck out swinging against Cliff Lee with two outs and the bases loaded.
The Yankees had loaded the bases on singles by Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira (sandwiched around Johnny Damon's strikeout) and a walk to Rodriguez. But Lee struck out Robinson Cano and Posada.
Posada answered "No" when asked before the game if he is limited in any way, but Girardi said he will not catch all four games in Cleveland. "We have to be smart about it," Girardi said.
Girardi said Posada gives the Yankees "another explosive hitter," but power didn't account for how the Yankees got on the board Friday night.
After Matsui led off the second with a groundout, Nick Swisher walked and Brett Gardner singled to right. Jeter, whose hitting streak reached 12 games in the first inning, singled to left to drive in Swisher for a 1-0 lead. After Damon singled to load the bases, Teixeira's grounder to first brought in Gardner to make it 2-0. But Rodriguez struck out looking to strand runners on second and third.
The Yankees made it 3-0 in the third, scratching out a run when Cano and Posada reached on infield singles, Matsui grounded out to advance the runners and Swisher hit a sacrifice fly.
The Yankees seemed to take Lee deep into the count in just about every at-bat, and after three innings, the lefty already had thrown 69 pitches.
Although Pettitte walked three batters in the first three innings, he got out of trouble and didn't make the mistakes that plagued him in past starts.
Pettitte did leave the game early because of lower back stiffness, though, exiting with two runners on base and none out in the sixth.
Pettitte bent down slowly in the fourth after Ben Francisco flew out to right for the first out and was visited on the mound by Girardi and assistant trainer Steve Donohue. Pettitte sailed through the fifth, but after Mark DeRosa singled to start the sixth and Pettitte walked Francisco, Girardi visited again.
Pettitte went to a 2-and-0 count on Jamey Carroll, and when Girardi and Donohue went to the mound again, Girardi called for Aceves, although Pettitte appeared to be arguing to stay in.
Aceves completed the walk to Carroll, which was charged to Pettitte, to load the bases. But he struck out Kelly Shoppach, and after pinch hitter Shin-Soo Choo's sacrifice fly made it 3-1, Asdrubal Cabrera grounded out to short. Jeter's throw was wide and short, but Teixeira made a good dig out of the dirt and held the bag, helping the Yankees extend their franchise-record streak without an error to 15 games.
Pettitte, who threw 84 pitches, was charged with the run. He gave up six hits and five walks in five innings-plus, striking out one.
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