Rodriguez’s 499th homer leads Yankees over Royals 7-1 as NY pulls within 61/2

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) – Alex Rodriguez moved within one of the 500-home run club, helping the New York Yankees get as close to the Boston Red Sox as they’ve been in 2 months.

Rodriguez hit his 499th homer, and Melky Cabrera and Hideki Matsui also went deep in a 7-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night that extended the Yankees’ winning streak to six.

Seeking to become the youngest player to reach 500 homers, Rodriguez connected in the eighth inning off Gil Meche. Kansas City’s starter Thursday is Jorge De La Rosa, who gave up A-Rod’s 400th homer two years ago.

Rodriguez had a chance to reach 500 in the ninth inning, but as flashbulbs popped he struck out against former teammate Octavio Dotel.

On June 8, 2005, Rodriguez hit his 400th homer off De La Russa, then with Milwaukee. A-Rod, who turns 32 Friday, would surpass Jimmie Foxx (32 years, 338 days) as the youngest player to reach 500 homers. Rodriguez would be the 22nd to reach the mark and the second this season behind Frank Thomas.

With its 11th win in 13 games, New York closed within 61/2 games of the AL East-leading Red Sox. The Yankees, who trailed by 141/2 games in late May, had not been this close since trailing Boston by six games before play on May 10.

New York (54-46), a season-high eight games above .500, got 13 hits for the third straight night and stayed 41/2 games behind Cleveland, the AL wild-card leader.

Mike Mussina (5-7) allowed one run and six hits in 5 2-3 innings. He had been 0-2 in three starts since beating Oakland on June 29.

Gil Meche (7-7) gave up five runs and nine hits in 7 1-3 innings, ending a hot streak that saw him go 4-0 in seven starts following a 4-0 loss to Philadelphia on June 9.

After scoring 63 runs in their five previous games – their best five-game output since 1931 – the Yankees managed just two runs in the first six innings.

Cabrera, who had three RBIs, put the Yankees ahead with a two-run homer in the second. After Reggie Sanders chased Mussina with an RBI single in the sixth, Cabrera’s sacrifice fly made it 3-1 in the seventh.

Rodriguez’s major league-leading 35th homer, a two-run drive that finished Meche, made it 5-1. Matsui greeted Jimmy Gobble with his 18th homer, his 10th of July. Andy Phillips added an RBI double.

Kansas City stranded nine runners – five in scoring position.

Notes: Yankees traveling secretary David Szen is involved in a tax investigation and is taking a leave of absence. “We understand that the government is investigating personal tax issues regarding David Szen,” Yankees spokesman Howard Rubenstein said. … Yankees manager Joe Torre wouldn’t say before the game who will start Friday’s resumption of a suspended game at Baltimore. New York was leading 8-6 in the top of the eighth when the game was halted by rain on June 28. … The Royals released struggling RHP Scott Elarton. RHP Leo Nunez likely will be called up from Triple-A Omaha to take Elarton’s rotation turn Sunday against Texas.

AP-ES-07-25-07 2347EDT

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