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NYY@BAL: A-Rod hits his 300th homer as a Yankee

BALTIMORE -- Publicly and behind closed doors, the Yankees have talked about playing small ball to scratch out of their offensive woes. Don't go taking the home run out of their toolbox just yet.

Russell Martin, Steve Pearce and Alex Rodriguez went deep to pace the Bombers' offense behind six solid innings from starter Phil Hughes as the Yankees defeated the Orioles, 8-5, on Friday at Camden Yards.

"It starts with the little things," Rodriguez said. "Obviously, we've talked about the DNA of the team and all that -- and home runs are good. But it starts with good at-bats. It adds up."

Making good on Rodriguez's challenge to score at least six runs a night, the victory moved the Yankees back into sole possession of the top spot in the division for the second time in three days. Their 78-60 record is one game ahead of the 77-61 Orioles.

"We're swinging the bats better and we're getting healthier, which is a good thing," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I think that's important."

New York built a 7-0 lead through five innings, hammering Baltimore starter Wei-Yin Chen and homering twice in a five-run fourth inning, sparked by Martin's three-run homer to left field.

"It felt pretty good," Martin said. "It looked like it got our bats going a little bit after that homer. We just took advantage of his mistakes. It looked like he was leaving pitches up in the zone a little bit."

Pearce added a two-run blast -- his first homer in a Yankees uniform, and fourth of the year -- that just cleared the fence over the leap of left fielder Nate McLouth.

"This is the Yankees, and I made a couple of mistakes and they made me pay the price," Chen said.

Rodriguez then tacked on a two-run blast that chased Chen in the fifth inning, which was Rodriguez's 300th in a Yankees uniform.

"I had no idea I had 300, but the only numbers we're worried about right now are W's," Rodriguez said. "Whatever you're going to do for the year is already done. Numbers are done, stats are done; we're worried about one thing, and that's winning games. That makes it a lot of fun."

Notching his team-leading 14th victory, Hughes blanked the Birds through five innings -- helped by a terrific Robinson Cano catch in the first that saved two runs -- before running into trouble in the sixth.

"The slider was a good pitch for me," Hughes said. "It got me out of some jams. Really, I just tried to get us through some clean innings early and tried to give us a chance to get the lead."

A Nick Swisher error at first base opened the door for damage, and McLouth followed J.J. Hardy's elusive grounder by doubling off the right-field wall. Adam Jones took advantage by homering for his third straight game, launching a three-run blast into the bullpen in left-center field.

"I just tried to make better pitches, forget about a big homer like that, and just try to get through that inning and give us a little momentum," Hughes said. "The crowd was feeling pretty good, and I just tried to stop it right there and give us a chance to score some more runs."

It was the Major League-leading 33rd homer permitted by Hughes, who limited Baltimore to two earned runs and six hits over six innings, walking none and striking out five in a 95-pitch outing.

"I thought he was pretty good," Girardi said. "In the sixth inning, he got hit around a little bit and made some mistakes. He made a mistake to Adam Jones and [Jones] didn't miss it. We talk about, when you leave the ball in the middle of the plate to these guys, they're going to hit it. Besides that, [Hughes] was pretty good."

The Yankees' bullpen has shown signs of fatigue during their recent skid in the standings, and there were signs of trouble when Robert Andino homered for the second straight night, this time off reliever Cody Eppley in the seventh.

But Boone Logan restored order, retiring all three batters he faced, and David Robertson bounced back from an ineffective outing in the series opener to help hold the lead.

"This is a big series right here with the Orioles," Robertson said. "We need to try to put some distance between us and them. Now we're a game up. Hopefully we can come tomorrow and be two games up."

Derek Jeter's RBI single in the ninth pushed the lead back to four, and Rafael Soriano pitched the ninth, allowing Manny Machado's solo homer for the final margin in what nearly -- but not quite -- felt like a must-win playoff game.

"We play these guys a lot," said Hughes. "It's September, sure, but there's still a lot of games left in our division; we can't put too much pressure on one particular game. We've got to play well this whole month."

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