BALTIMORE (AP) — It’s the time of year when milestones are far less important than victories, so for Alex Rodriguez, the significance of his 300th home run with the Yankees was solely that it helped New York regain sole possession of first place in the AL East.
Homers by Rodriguez, Russell Martin and Steve Pearce provided New York with a seven-run cushion in the fifth inning, and the Yankees held on to beat the Baltimore Orioles 8-5 on Friday night.
New York had lost eight of 11 to the Orioles, including the opener of this four-game series between division rivals that runs through Sunday.
Rodriguez chased rookie Wei-Yin Chen with a two-run drive in the fifth — the 645th home run of his career. Only five players have more homers in a Yankees uniform than A-Rod, who obviously isn’t keeping track of such things.
“I had no idea I had 300,” Rodriguez said. “The only numbers we’re worried about right now is Ws. Whatever you are going to do for the year is already done. The numbers are done. We’re worried about one thing and that’s winning games.”
Rodriguez, who also singled, extended his hitting streak to 11 games — his longest run since a 12-gamer in 2009. Wearing the replica green University of Miami jersey of linebacker Ray Lewis (now with the Baltimore Ravens), Rodriguez seemed more interested in talking about the team than himself.
“It was huge,” Rodriguez said of the win. “Every game from now on is huge, especially when you get to September. One of the challenges I have for the offense is that we should be able to score six runs every night. If we’re disciplined and put up great at-bats, six runs is a good number.”
The pitching was decent, too.
Phil Hughes (14-12) allowed three runs, two earned, in six innings to end a streak of five straight road losses since June 15. The right-hander did, however, yield his major-league high 33rd home run — one more than Ervin Santana, who was slated to pitch later Friday night.
In his previous start, Hughes gave up five runs and two homers in five innings Sunday at Yankee Stadium in an 8-3 loss to the Orioles.
Asked if he felt additional pressure pitching in a pennant race, Hughes said, “I treated it like any other game. I tried to pitch the best ball game I could. That doesn’t really change start to start. It was a good win for us.”
Adam Jones, Robert Andino and Manny Machado homered for the Orioles, who got three hits from Nate McLouth but missed a chance to move ahead of the Yankees for the first time since June 7.
Baltimore was backed by a near-sellout crowd of 40,861. But unlike Thursday night, when the Orioles hit six homers in a 10-6 win, most of the fans were silent at the end.
“There was a lot of energy there again. The fans were great,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Just a disappointment we couldn’t return the favor.”
Chen faced only 10 batters through the first three innings, only two more than he had to handle in New York’s five-run fourth. Chen hit Nick Swisher on the foot with a pitch and walked Robinson Cano before Rodriguez struck out. Martin then pulled a 2-0 pitch into the left-field seats. One out and one single later, Pearce homered to left over the outstretched glove of McLouth, whose contention of fan interference was quickly dismissed by third-base umpire Mike Winters.
For Pearce, who played earlier this season with Baltimore, it was his first home run with New York.
After Rodriguez hit his 16th homer of the season in the fifth, Chen was done. The left-hander has surrendered 25 home runs in 28 games, including seven in his past four starts.
“Actually I feel real good today,” Chen said through an interpreter. “I wasn’t able to attack the strike zone like in the late innings, and that was the problem. This is the Yankees, and I made a couple of mistakes and they made me pay the price.”
Jones gave Orioles fans some hope in the sixth when he connected with two on to cut the gap to 7-3. It was his 29th of the year and the second in two games.
Andino homered off Cody Eppley in the seventh, but New York got that run back in the ninth on an RBI single by Derek Jeter. McLouth then robbed Swisher of a home run, leaping above the 7-foot wall to grab the ball out of the waiting hands of a fan in a Yankees shirt.
Machado homered with two outs in the ninth.
NOTES: Yankees 1B Mark Teixeira (strained left calf) intends to return Saturday. He has not played since Aug. 27. … Baltimore recalled RHP Jake Arrieta from Triple-A Norfolk. He started on opening day for the Orioles but went 3-9 with a 6.13 ERA before being optioned. … New York has been in first place every day since June 11. … Rodriguez scored his 1,882nd run to move into a tie for 10th place with Tris Speaker on the career list. … Matt Wieters went hitless, ending his 15-game hitting streak against the Yankees this season. … New York’s CC Sabathia will pitch Saturday against Baltimore’s Joe Saunders.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)