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The Yankees Starters Had a Weekend to Be Proud Of

The Yankees had their chances to win yesterday's game and complete the three-game sweep of Baltimore: one in the ninth with Mariano Rivera on to close the game (he didn't), and another in the eleventh when the Orioles walked Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter to pitch to Lance Berkman with the bases loaded and one out (he hit into a double play). The Yankees threw all their best relievers at Baltimore, and still lost. Which, of course, isn't good.

But even in a pennant race — the Yankees are now a half-game ahead of Tampa — Andy Pettitte's six solid innings may overshadow the loss. The Yankees' success down the stretch and beyond depends not only on Pettitte's health, but on a return to something approximating his early-season form. He's still not quite at full strength — he threw just 79 pitches — but all signs over the past couple of weeks have been promising.

In fact, the Yankees rotation finally had a weekend to be proud of. A.J. Burnett allowed three runs over seven on Friday in a respectable, if not dominant, outing. (He'd be bailed out by Alex Rodriguez's dramatic three-run homer.) And CC Sabathia cruised to his twentieth win on Saturday, the first time in his career he's reached that plateau.

With so many games against Tampa Bay and Texas this month, the words "playoff preview" have been thrown around a lot over the past couple of weeks. (We've been guilty of this, too.) But the truth is, this weekend was the first time in months the Yankees' rotation has resembled the one they'll use in October, if not in the same order. (Presumably, this threesome will be joined in October by Phil Hughes.) And the results were promising.

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Photo: Greg Fiume/Getty Images