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Yankees close in by sweeping Twins

NEW YORK - The New York Yankees can achieve two milestones with one more victory: clinching their seventh straight AL East title and reaching 100 wins in three straight seasons for the first time.

Behind a pair of saves by Mariano Rivera, Jon Lieber's 100th career win, and the hitting of Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui, the Yankees swept a doubleheader from the Minnesota Twins, 5-3 and 5-4, last night.

New York (99-59) opened a four-game lead over second-place Boston (95-63), and would clinch the division with one more win or one Red Sox loss. Both teams are assured of no worse than the AL wild-card berth.

``We said all along if Boston wins 110, 115 games, they deserve the division,'' Rodriguez said. ``We took care of our business on this side, and we have one more to go.''

Rodriguez hit a tiebreaking, two-run triple in the seventh inning of the opener, then had an opposite-field homer to right in the second game, his 36th of the season. Matsui hit a solo homer in the opener, then added an opposite-field, three-run shot in the nightcap, his 30th.

New York can clinch at home tonight against the Twins before closing the regular season with three games in Toronto.

``We definitely want to do it [today],'' said Rivera, who raised his career-high saves total to 53.

Minnesota (90-68) has lost six of eight since clinching its third straight AL Central title. The Twins are vying with the eventual AL West winner - Anaheim, Oakland or Texas - for home-field advantage in the first round.

``We had two bad innings, we lost two ballgames,'' Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.

Gardenhire rested Jacque Jones in the opener, Torii Hunter in the second game, and kept Shannon Stewart (tight right hamstring) out of both. His goal is to get players ready for next week.

``We knew that if you clinch your division early enough, you can set yourself up,'' the manager said.

New York's Mike Mussina faced Minnesota's Johan Santana in the first game, a possible preview of a playoff opener. Yankees manager Joe Torre made it all but official that Mussina will start Game 1 Tuesday against the Twins or the AL West winner. The way his staff is lining up, it appears Lieber will start the second game in the best-of-five series, Orlando Hernandez the third and Javier Vazquez the fourth, if it's needed.

``When you get to the postseason, you have to be at your best and hope that when you step out there, all your stuff is available to you,'' Mussina said. ``I don't have any problems, and I think all my stuff is available to me. I'll just be prepared for the first game, wherever that is.''

Torre would only hint that Mussina will start the opener, saying: ``I think you can guess without my help.''

Santana, seeking to match Boston's Curt Schilling at a major league-leading 21 wins, dominated New York for five innings and left with a 3-1 lead. But the Yankees extended their major league record for come-from-behind wins with their 60th, stopping his streak of consecutive winning starts at 12.

Santana, 13-0 in 15 appearances since the All-Star break, was limited to five innings by Gardenhire. Santana, who struck out five and gave up three hits, is looking ahead to the playoffs, not thinking about whether the no-decision hurt his Cy Young Award hopes.

``We have a better pitching staff than a couple of years ago,'' said Santana. ``I definitely like our chances.''

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