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Sheffield powers Yankees over Blue Jays

Sep 30, 2006 - 2:33 AM BRONX, New York (Ticker) -- Gary Sheffield is returning to form just in time for the postseason.

Sheffield belted a three-run homer and Alex Rodriguez had three hits and an RBI as the New York Yankees posted a 7-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in the opening game of a season-ending three-game set.

Robinson Cano extended his hitting streak to 11 games for the Yankees (97-63), who clinched home-field advantage in the American League when Detroit and Minnesota both lost.

"We got our 10th man," Sheffield said of wrapping up home field. "Obviously it's big in the playoffs and now these guys are going to take us all the way through."

Sheffield has been sidelined since May 29 with a torn ligament and dislocated tendon in his left wrist. Since returning from the injury on September 22 against Tampa Bay, he had not yet found his power stroke, hitting .227 with no homers and two RBI coming into Friday's contest.

Despite the lack of offense, Yankees manager Joe Torre had been feeling good about Sheffield's at-bats.

"He's been coming," Torre said. "He really hasn't had any bad games as far as his at-bats go. He had a plan going in and certainly exercised that plan, just trying to hit the ball through the middle, the other way.

"He's been pretty much every at-bat, he hasn't been fooled or out of balance. It's surprised me. But he certainly was prepared to do this."

"I've been having quality at-bats," Sheffield said. "The results haven't been there but I've been putting the ball in play. I want to see some results so I can get some confidence, and to hit the ball out of the park, that's all the confidence I need."

The Yankees slugger smacked a three-run homer in the fourth off Gustavo Chacin (9-4) to snap a 1-1 tie. It was his first blast since April 26 against the Devil Rays and the 1,500th RBI of his career.

"That was it, I was looking for that (a home run)," Sheffield said. "I was swinging as hard as I could, trying to impress Joe a little bit and let him know I could swing as hard as I used to and even harder. I've been cutting back on my swing but today I let it go."

"It looked like Chacin tried to throw a fastball in," Torre said. "But his (Sheffield's) hands are so lightning fast and I think the big key to that at-bat was that he kept his weight back."

The Yankees added to their lead with two outs in the fifth. After Johnny Damon was hit by a pitch, Rodriguez stroked a double down the left field line to make it 5-1.

Cano was 1-for-3 and is hitting .342, placing him second in the AL batting race behind Minnesota's Joe Mauer, who went 0-for-4 Friday and is hitting .346. Cano is just one point ahead of teammate Derek Jeter, who was 2-for-4.

Hours after learning that Randy Johnson has a herniated disk in his lower back, the Yankees received a tremendous outing from Mike Mussina, who will start Game Two of the AL Division Series.

Mussina allowed just one run and two hits in six innings, striking out four without a walk. He did not allow a base runner after Troy Glaus led off the second with his 38th home run.

"I feel good," Mussina said. "I feel strong. The stamina is where it should be."

"Mussina was on," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "He could carve you up."

Mussina also had help from Sheffield on defense, who is still getting used to playing first base for the first time in his career.

"He looked a lot more comfortable at first base," Torre said. "He's not going to back off a ground ball and is going to try to make every play possible. I'm pretty comfortable he can do the job there."

In the seventh, Brian Bruney allowed three walks - including a two-out, bases-loaded free pass to Aaron Hill. Scott Proctor finished the inning and tossed a scoreless eighth before Kyle Farnsworth struck out two in the ninth.

Chacin allowed five runs - four earned - and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

"Yeah (they have a good lineup), but you got to pitch your game and do the best you can," Chacin said. "That's what I tried to do. They got a great lineup and great hitters but you got to make your pitch."

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