NEW YORK (AP) – Aaron Small is doing his part to keep the New York Yankees’ creaky rotation patched together.

Small won his second straight start since the Yankees brought him up from the minors and Gary Sheffield drove in four runs, leading New York over the Minnesota Twins 6-3 Thursday.

Small (2-0) hadn’t started a major league game since 1996 before last week, when the 34-year-old right-hander helped New York to an 8-4 victory at Texas in his Yankees’ debut – his first big league win in seven years.

Against the Twins, he gave up three runs and six hits in seven innings, walked none and struck out one, retiring his final 12 batters after Jacque Jones’ tying double in the fourth. It was the longest outing in the major league career of Small, who has just five starts among his 149 appearances.

Tom Gordon pitched the eighth, and Mariano Rivera finished for his 26th save – all in a row since failing in his first two chances of the season. New York, with only Randy Johnson and Mike Mussina remaining from its original five-man rotation, closed within 11/2 games of idle first-place Boston in the AL East.

Sheffield hooked a three-run homer just inside the left-field foul pole in the first inning off Joe Mays (5-6). After Minnesota tied it on Luis Rodriguez’s two-run single in the second and Jones’ double, Sheffield put the Yankees ahead for good with a run-scoring single in the fifth. He is batting .396 (38-for-96) with runners in scoring position this year.

Mays lost his third straight start, giving up six runs and 10 hits in 5 2-3 innings. He dropped to 1-7 against the Yankees, including 0-4 in New York.

As camp groups in bright orange, yellow, blue and white shirts looked on from the upper deck, New York’s defense provided some lessons. When Rodriguez hit his second-inning single, he got trapped between first and second, and Mike Redmond wound up getting tagged out between third and the plate for the final out of the inning in a 9-3-4-2-5 rundown.

With Jones on second and two outs in the fourth, Derek Jeter ranged deep in the hole at shortstop to get Redmond’s grounder, jumped from the edge of the outfield grass and easily got the out at first.

Jones twice had trouble in right field. In the fifth, he allowed Robinson Cano’s liner to go over his head for a double, and Cano scored on Sheffield’s single for a 4-3 lead.

With the bases loaded in the sixth, Jones decided not to try for a diving catch on Cano’s broken-bat drive into short right, and the ball fell for a two-run single.

Notes: The Yankees were still unsure who will start Saturday against the Angels. … The Twins headed to Boston for a weekend series against the Red Sox. … Minnesota is 0-5-1 in road series since winning two of three at Arizona from June 7-9. … The Yankees have won 20 of their last 25 regular-season games against the Twins, including 11 of 12 in New York.

AP-ES-07-28-05 1534EDT

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