Clemens strong as Yanks take opener
Righty notches 351st career win; A-Rod collects 100th RBI
KANSAS CITY -- The Yankees haven't given up hope of banging out some noise in the division race. The way their offense is cranking, they have little reason of doing so.
Alex Rodriguez reached the 100-RBI mark, and each starter had at least one hit as the Yankees rolled to a 9-2 victory over the Royals on Monday, earning Roger Clemens his 351st career win.
"It's what you would expect from the lineup," said Clemens (3-4), who pitched seven solid innings to log his first win since July 2. "Guys are finding a way to get it done. The intensity is up. It's good to see our hitters walking around with smiles on their faces."
After beating up on the Devil Rays in a lopsided weekend series at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees have scored 54 runs in their last four games.
Coming off back-to-back games with 20 or more hits, the Yankees drilled 13 hits off Kansas City pitching, though much of it came together in a five-run ninth inning that turned the game into a laugher.
The Yankees had the benefit of a sharp start from Clemens, and for much of the evening, they needed it. Staked to an early lead through two innings by Hideki Matsui's two-run single in the first and Johnny Damon's two-run double in the second, Clemens worked efficiently, limiting the Royals to two runs on just four hits over seven innings.
"You just trust him," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He goes out there and knows how to pitch. Roger, you give him a four-run lead and he knows what to do with it."
Recording his third victory in nine starts since rejoining the Yankees, Clemens walked none and struck out three. He retired the first eight Kansas City batters before Tony Pena stroked a two-out single in the third.
Mark Grudzielanek opened the fourth with a double, and after a groundout, scored when a Clemens splitter dropped short of the plate and bounced away from catcher Jorge Posada for a wild pitch -- one of two errant offerings by Clemens.
Clemens cruised until Ross Gload reached him for a solo home run with one out in the seventh, but The Rocket kept firing to conclusion, striking out John Buck on his 94th and final pitch that sent the catcher's bat whizzing about six rows deep behind the Yankees bench.
Clemens also had the benefit of good defense and a little luck in the sixth. Pena was hit by a pitch and David DeJesus reached on a swinging tapper up the third-base line, putting two on and none out, but Clemens induced Mark Grudzielanek to roll into a rally-killing double play.
"Every game that you're out there, you know that you're going to be caught in a spot where you're going to have to pitch a little bit," Clemens said. "Tonight, fortunately, it worked out for me that I was able to get out of somewhat of a jam."
Facing left-hander Odalis Perez -- who had faced the Yankees once before in a 1999 game where he surrendered home runs to Chuck Knoblauch and Bernie Williams -- New York's attack eventually came out to be of some vintage, whether it resembled eight years back or just from the weekend.
After being rapped for the two-run hits in the first two innings, Perez (5-9) settled in and blanked the Yankees over the next five frames, finishing an eight-hit performance with three walks and a strikeout.
Rodriguez came through with his milestone hit in the ninth inning off reliever Ryan Braun, stroking a run-scoring single up the middle to score Damon with what -- at the time -- was a meaningful run, before New York added four more in a late flurry.
Rodriguez has reached the 100-RBI mark in 10 consecutive seasons, but this is the earliest he has ever done so. Rodriguez became the first player to drive in 100 runs in less than 100 games since Manny Ramirez did it for the Indians in 1999.
He also became the first Yankee since 1937 to accomplish the feat, when Joe DiMaggio and Lou Gehrig did it.
"I am proud of it, but that's just halfway done," Rodriguez said. "We're just at the halfway point. The biggest key is for us to score runs, drive in runs, play good defense and stop them from scoring runs. That's our only focus."
Just two home runs shy of joining the vaunted 500 home run club, Rodriguez walked twice in Monday's contest, finishing 1-for-3.
"I [couldn't] care less about 500," Rodriguez said. "The only thing I really care about is getting on base and helping this team win and driving in runs when we need them. I can honestly say 100 [RBIs] or 500 [homers] never came into my mind once."
As the Yankees schedule organizational meetings for Tuesday in Tampa, Fla., likely addressing possible roster moves to be considered before the July 31 trade deadline, Monday's game served as a reminder that the club can build and police from within.
Damon spoke openly about how when he hits, it makes it easier on the rest of the lineup, and Luis Vizcaino, who pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning before Ron Villone mopped up in the ninth, credited idle closer Mariano Rivera's mental coaching for his recent surge of success.
"Mariano is a great pitcher and a great person," Vizcaino said. "When I talk to the guys, I listen to the guys, so I know what they're doing."
Lately, it seems most of the Yankees could claim the same.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.