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07/22/09 6:00 PM ET

Yanks dispatch O's for sixth straight win

Four-run first inning enough for Burnett to close out sweep

NEW YORK -- If the back-to-back home runs that Brian Bruney served up to Adam Jones and Nick Markakis in the ninth inning on Wednesday meant anything, it was this -- the Yankees are not perfect. They are still vulnerable, still shaky at times, still a work in progress.

So no, they're not flawless. But they do seem awfully close.

In the end Wednesday, those two solo shots were far less indicative of what transpired at Yankee Stadium than were A.J. Burnett's seven gritty innings or Nick Swisher's redemptive game. By the time Mariano Rivera could relieve Bruney to cap a 6-4 victory and a three-game sweep of the Orioles, the Yankees had again become convinced of their current place in baseball.

They have won six straight games for the third time this season and are guaranteed sole possession of first place in the American League East for at least another day.

"That's six pretty good games right there," Swisher said.

This one was another complete type of job, the sort to which the Yankees have become accustomed in recent weeks. It began with Burnett, who stranded seven baserunners over the first four innings, allowing just two runs over seven innings in all. And it ended -- disregarding Bruney's outing for a moment -- with Phil Hughes and Rivera, who have combined to strike out 17, walk three and allow 10 hits over 19 July innings.

After the game, Bruney -- who agreed with manager Joe Girardi's assessment that he actually boasted some of his better stuff of the season -- joked that he allowed the home runs only so that Rivera could record his 28th save.

"I'm not buying that," Rivera said, laughing.

Originally, no save opportunity was available because the Yankees -- as usual -- were cruising with too big of a lead. Three of the first four batters to face Orioles starter Jason Berken came away with hits, and two of those three scored. After Alex Rodriguez singled home the first run of the game, Robinson Cano plated a run with an infield hit and Swisher drove in two with a double.

The Yankees -- hardly needing it -- scored once more on Jorge Posada's solo homer in the third and again on Posada's RBI double in the eighth. And so their offense -- which has scored 12 runs over the past two days -- has seemingly caught up to their pitching, which has allowed an average of 2.3 runs per game since the All-Star break.

Not surprisingly, those most basic statistics have translated into wins. For the first time this season, the Yankees are 20 games above .500. And for the first time since 2004, they have reached that mark at the still-early date of July 22.

"It's the best we've been," Girardi said, referring to more than just his team's place in the standings.

These days, of course, no Yankees win would be complete without stellar defense, which Swisher provided after a major gaffe in the third. Drifting back on a fly ball to open the inning, Swisher "just missed it," allowing Brian Roberts to scoot into scoring position with no outs.

Then, with two men on and two outs, Swisher made a running grab of Ty Wigginton's line drive to end the inning without any damage.

"I threw out a 'Dumb and Dumber' line," Burnett said of his ensuing chat with Swisher. "I said, 'Then you do something like that and totally redeem yourself.'"

"I was just happy it actually went in my glove," Swisher said. "I was like, 'Wow, OK, maybe I still can catch it, which is nice.'"

The catch helped Burnett submit his seventh successive quality start, most of them demanding an adjective somewhat more flattering than mere "quality." But no matter the modifier, Burnett now stands tied for the team lead in wins, with nine, in what he is calling a "friendly competition" among the club's starting pitchers.

No Yankees starter has allowed more than three earned runs since the All-Star break, most of them lasting plenty deep into games as well. And the Yankees, so recently reeling from a three-game sweep at the hands of the Angels, have now won 19 of their past 24 games.

"I think it kind of fired us all up," Swisher said. "We win nine or 10 games and then we have a rough time in Anaheim, and everyone thinks you're the worst team in baseball. I think it really lit a fire under us, and I think we've really taken our emotions out on the field."

Seemingly as streaky as they come, the Yankees have previously recorded winning streaks of seven and nine games this year. But in neither of those streaks was their starting pitching so consistently good as it is now.

"We've been much better at it, that's for sure," Girardi said, referring to winning in general. "It has been very professional the way these guys have gone about their business. And that's what you want. Every day, you come in and you expect to win. When you don't win, you're upset and you're shocked. And I sense that about this club."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.