Derek Jeter hasn’t had a great statistical season. Neither has A-Rod, in addition to his pesky legs landing him on the DL. At 38, Andy Pettitte’s groin has been causing him pain over the last couple of months. This certainly isn’t the seemingly invincible Bronx Bomber squad we saw plow through September and October last year. Will the Yanks be crippled by injuries this fall? The whole reason the Yankees breezed through the post-season last year was the pitching of Pettitte and CC Sabathia. In order for the Yanks to raise the 28th banner, guys are gonna have to get healthy. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Despite injuries to several position players and an inconsistent offense, the Yankees pulled into the All-Star break with baseball's best record because of a healthy starting rotation.

A lot can change in two days.

Andy Pettitte left yesterday's game - a surprising 9-5 win over the Rays, given the circumstances - with one out in the third inning with a strained left groin, marking the second straight day a Yankees starting pitcher left a game in the third with an injury.

An MRI taken at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital showed that Pettitte has a Grade 1 (the least severe) strain, but the 38-year-old lefthander is headed to the disabled list, general manager Brian Cashman said last night, and will be out possibly "four to five weeks."

Cashman said righthander Sergio Mitre, who has been on the DL with a strained left oblique since June 15, will be activated this week and will start in Pettitte's place Saturday. "He's got quality stuff," Cashman said. "He's not Andy Pettitte, but he's got good stuff and has an opportunity to help us."

The bullpen, deservedly maligned much of this season and already depleted because of the exit of A.J. Burnett (lacerations to both hands) with none out in the third Saturday, helped the Yankees big-time yesterday.

David Robertson, winning pitcher Chan Ho Park, Boone Logan, Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera held down the Rays after they took a 3-0 lead in the first inning on Carlos Peña's three-run homer, and a surprising offensive outburst against All-Star Game starter David Price helped the Yankees take two of three in the series.

The Yankees (58-33), who expended plenty of emotion while honoring George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard on Friday and Saturday, increased their lead over the Rays to three games. A Tampa Bay sweep would have put the Yankees in second place.

"It was huge," said Alex Rodriguez, who hit his 598th career homer in the seventh to give the Yankees a 9-4 lead. "It was important for us to win a series and protect our home court. We always like to play well at home, and we did that this weekend."

The Yankees roughed up Price (12-5) for a season-worst seven runs in his five innings and had 11 hits overall. They had four two-out hits that produced six runs.

Robinson Cano's two-out, two-run triple high off the leftfield wall in the first cut their deficit to 3-2 and Mark Teixeira's RBI single in the third tied it. Derek Jeter's RBI single gave the Yankees the lead for good in the fifth, and later in the four-run inning, Rodriguez's two-out RBI single and Jorge Posada's two-run double made it 7-3. Nick Swisher added a two-out RBI single in the sixth for an 8-3 lead.

Pettitte exited with one out in the third. After he threw a pitch to Kelly Shoppach that made it 3-and-1, Posada signaled to the dugout and Girardi, pitching coach Dave Eiland and trainer Gene Monahan went to the mound. Pettitte shook his left leg, threw one warm-up pitch and was replaced by Robertson.

"Usually I say I can pitch through anything, but I was hurting," Pettitte said. "I was hurting pretty bad."

Robertson escaped a base-loaded, one-out jam in the third without allowing a run and stranded a runner at third in the fourth, striking out Peña and getting Ben Zobrist to ground out. The Rays left eight on base in the first four innings, 12 overall.

"Great win for us today," Pettitte said.

Said Girardi: "This has been a tough week for all of us . . . There were a lot of emotions this week but I thought our guys toughed it out."

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