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Yankees battle, but fall again to Angels

NEW YORK -- They dueled down to the final strike, Francisco Rodriguez vs. Derek Jeter with the outcome on the line.

After throwing a series of amped-up fastballs and wicked sliders, Rodriguez retired Jeter on a fly ball with a runner on third for the last out, lifting the Los Angeles Angels over the New York Yankees, 4-3, yesterday for a three-game sweep.

"It could be the worst hitter in the world. It could be the best hitter," Rodriguez said. "I treat every hitter with the same respect."

John Lackey earned his major league-high eighth win and the AL West-leading Angels kept going in the right direction with their ninth victory in 11 games.

New York, meanwhile, lost for the seventh time in 10 games and dropped a season-high six games below .500. The Yankees fell 12 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the AL East -- their biggest deficit since 1995, when they trailed by up to 16 games in late August.

"We're not giving up," Jeter said. "We had an opportunity there. We couldn't do it."

Down, 4-2, the Yankees rallied in the ninth against Rodriguez. Melky Cabrera's sacrifice fly brought up their best clutch hitter -- Jeter was batting .583 with runners in scoring position and two outs going into that at-bat. With a crowd of 53,508 standing, Jeter fell behind in the count 1-2. He fouled off four full-count deliveries before lofting a long fly on the 10th pitch.

"It was nervous time at the end," said Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke, who ran the team because manager Mike Scioscia was attending his son's high school graduation. "We play them well. That's because we have great pitching."

The Angels posted their first sweep at Yankee Stadium since 2004, taking the lead when New York reliever Scott Proctor couldn't find the plate. He issued bases-loaded walks to pinch hitter Erick Aybar and Chone Figgins as Los Angeles rallied for three runs in the seventh for a 4-2 lead.

Lackey (8-3) gave up five hits over eight innings. He escaped his biggest jam by getting Hideki Matsui to ground out to strand runners on second and third in the seventh.