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the stretch run

Yankees Play, Win Meaningful Game

Fun fact about Mark Teixeira's triple last night: It would have been caught by the shortstop, but he huffed and puffed and literally blew the ball over Torii Hunter's head. True story.

It's a pretty good rule of thumb that if you can start looking at a baseball team's magic number before the first weekend of football, said baseball team isn't going to be playing a lot of meaningful games until the playoffs begin. But with four games against the Angels in September, the best record in the American League (and all that goes with it) isn't locked up. Last night, the Yankees took the first step toward locking it up by sweeping their one-game series against those Angels.

And while a more comfortable lead in the standings is nice, the win may have been an even bigger psychological boost: Joba Chamberlain was acceptably good for a change, and not only did they beat their nemesis from Anaheim, they did it with fifteen-game winner Jered Weaver starting. At this point, Yankees fans pretty much need to invent things to worry about, but Joba's ineffectiveness and the Angels' dominance over the Yanks this decade would be at the top of even the least paranoid fan's list.

That magic number to win the East, by the way, is twelve. The Yankees have a six-game lead over the Angels for best record in the AL. Not-at-all-unbiased NESN articles aside, the Yankees are the team to beat in the American League right now. Barring a sweep in Anaheim next week, they're likely to have home field throughout the playoffs. Then the games won't just mean something; they'll mean everything.

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Photo: Getty Images