"The two best records in the American League are the teams that are playing,'' Girardi said before Monday night's game at the Stadium. "What every team strives to do is to get into the playoffs, to win your division and then to have home-field advantage. And these games could determine a lot of that.''
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Regarding the latter, the Yankees got a leg up, albeit a very small one, with a series-opening 8-2 win in front of 45,676.
The Yankees (68-47), who had 10 hits -- including a grand slam by Nick Swisher and a solo blast by Eric Chavez -- inched ahead of the Rangers (67-47) for the AL's best mark. "You're taking the two best teams in the American League and you're battling up against each other,'' Swisher said. "You can feel the electricity on the field.''
No one provided more of a jolt Monday night than he did. Effective in the two-hole in the previous five games, he produced in that spot again. His grand slam into the second deck in rightfield highlighted a five-run third that produced a 5-2 lead, and he added an RBI single in the seventh.
Just as significant were the performances of rookie David Phelps -- starting in place of CC Sabathia, who is on the disabled list with elbow stiffness -- and Derek Lowe, whose signing became official Monday. The two combined to mostly shut down the Rangers, who led the league with 578 runs entering the game. "I don't know how you can ask two guys to do any more than that,'' Girardi said.
"They're very big shoes to fill,'' Phelps said of Sabathia.
Phelps, excellent out of the bullpen since being recalled July 18, shook off a tough first two innings in his first start since July 4. On a pitch count of 75 to 80, he allowed a two-out RBI single by Nelson Cruz in the first and a solo homer by David Murphy in the second, but no more. "I was just satisfied to get through five innings,'' he said with a smile. "I was 0-for-3 coming into today.''
"Those are two big outs that he got,'' Girardi said of the pickoffs, which catcher Russell Martin credited to bench coach Tony Peña. "These guys are extremely dangerous. He does a great job of holding runners on and he has a great pickoff move.''
Lowe, 39, pitched four scoreless innings for his first save since 2001, allowing two hits and no walks and fanning four. "Looked like the same guy I caught in L.A.,'' said Martin, his Dodgers teammate from 2006-08.
Texas starter Ryan Dempster, in whom the Yankees were interested before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, fell to 1-1, 8.31 in three starts with his new team after allowing eight runs and nine hits in six-plus innings.
Martin and Raul Ibañez began the third with back-to-back singles, and after Ichiro Suzuki's sacrifice bunt put runners on second and third, Derek Jeter walked to load the bases. Swisher's grand slam made it 4-2.
The home run was Swisher's 15th of the season and 200th of his career, giving the Yankees seven players with at least 200.
A walk to Robinson Cano and singles by Mark Teixeira and Chavez then reloaded the bases for Curtis Granderson, whose long sacrifice fly to center made it 5-2.
Chavez's 13th homer of the season, a drive that cleared the Yankees' bullpen in the sixth, gave the Yankees a 6-2 lead.
After Ichiro tripled to lead off the seventh, Jeter's RBI double knocked out Dempster. That gave Jeter an American League-leading 154 hits. Swisher then singled off Michael Kirkman to make it 8-2.
"Just a great day,'' Swisher said. "Great total team win. Great pitching effort. I think that's what really stands out.''