BALTIMORE – Aaron Small’s outstanding pitching moved the New York Yankees closer to their eighth consecutive AL East title.

Small took a one-hitter into the seventh inning to improve to 10-0, and the Yankees got homers from Jason Giambi and Hideki Matsui in cruising past the Baltimore Orioles 8-4 on Thursday night.

The victory kept the Yankees’ division lead over the second-place Boston Red Sox to one game, since Boston won its game with Toronto with a 5-4 victory. New York heads to Fenway Park for a season-ending three-game series beginning tonight.

Alex Rodriguez had two hits and scored twice for the Yankees, who built an 8-0 lead in winning for the 15th time in 18 games.

Small gave up two runs and four hits in 6 2-3 innings, striking out four and walking five. After breezing through the first six innings, the right-hander gave up a two-run homer to Javy Lopez in the seventh.

The Orioles then loaded the bases with two outs before Tanyon Sturtze retired Chris Gomez on a grounder.

Small has won his last five starts, including two straight against Baltimore.

Lopez homered for the third time in three games, and Jay Gibbons also connected for the Orioles, who have lost 11 of 12.

Despite the loss, Baltimore is assured of finishing no worse than fourth in the AL East due to Tampa Bay’s 6-0 defeat in Cleveland. But avoiding the cellar is not exactly what the Orioles had in mind when they led the division on June 23.

Angels 7, Athletics 1

OAKLAND, Calif. – Bartolo Colon became the Angels’ winningest pitcher since Nolan Ryan in 1974, leading Los Angeles over the Oakland Athletics 7-1 on Thursday.

Jose Molina homered and drove in three runs, and Robb Quinlan also homered for the AL West champions.

Colon (21-8) gave up one run and five hits in five innings, throwing 80 pitches. He pitched on three days’ rest to get on schedule for starting Los Angeles’ playoff opener Tuesday.

After giving up six runs and 10 hits in five innings against Tampa Bay on Sunday, Colon allowed only one runner past second base. He has the most wins for the Angels since Nolan Ryan went 22-16 in 1974, but his ERA is 3.48.

The Angels won their 18th game in September, matching the club record set en route to the 2002 World Series title.

Indians 6, Devil Rays 0

CLEVELAND – One race finally over, the Cleveland Indians focused on one they can still win.

C.C. Sabathia pitched eight shutout innings, Travis Hafner homered and the Indians stayed atop the AL wild-card standings by rolling to a 6-0 win over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on Thursday night.

In salvaging the series finale, the Indians snapped a three-game losing streak that helped the Chicago White Sox hold onto their dwindling division lead and clinch the AL Central.

But Cleveland can still capture the wild card, which as recent postseason history has shown isn’t such a bad thing. The last three World Series champions – Boston, Florida and the Angels – all entered the postseason as wild cards.

Mariners 4, Rangers 3

SEATTLE – Kenny Rogers gave up all four Seattle runs in what was likely his final start for the Texas Rangers, a 4-3 loss Thursday to the Mariners.

Rogers (14-8) gave up nine hits and three earned runs in six innings. The 40-year-old left-hander was quoted as saying in Thursday’s editions of The Dallas Morning News: “I’m pretty certain this is my last start here. Actually, I’m extremely certain. I think everybody has made their positions known.

“In a way, I’m kind of relieved. I know I won’t have to bend over backwards to make it happen. I think sometimes in the past, my desire to be here has been the overriding factor for me, and at least I know where I stand.”

White Sox 4, Tigers 2

DETROIT – Chicago got its clinch, not a collapse.

Paul Konerko homered to back Freddy Garcia and lead the White Sox over the Detroit Tigers 4-2 Thursday for Chicago’s first AL Central title since 2000.

Chicago built a 15-game lead in the division on Aug. 1, then saw it dwindle to 11/2 games as Cleveland closed. The White Sox survived a shaky ninth inning to win their AL-best 96th game and will start the playoffs at home next week.

Chicago clinched because Cleveland can at best tie the White Sox, and no team can finish second in another division with 96 wins or more. If the AL Central is decided by a tiebreaker, it would go to the White Sox, who beat the Indians 11-5 in the season series, and Cleveland would be the wild card.

Brewers 2, Reds 0

MILWAUKEE – Gary Glover allowed two hits over seven innings and struck out a career-high 10 in leading the Milwaukee Brewers to a 2-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds on a “free admission” Thursday at Miller Park.

By outpitching Eric Milton, Glover put the Brewers (80-79) one win from their first non-losing season since 1992. Milwaukee finishes with a three-game series at Pittsburgh, where the Pirates are wrapping up their 13th straight losing season, the longest current drought in the major leagues.

Glover (5-4) surrendered singles in the third and sixth inning but neither runner made it past first base. He surpassed his previous career high of eight strikeouts, accomplished Saturday against St. Louis.

Mets 11, Rockies 0

NEW YORK – Mike Piazza started what almost certainly is his final series as a Met with a huge home run Thursday night, and Tom Glavine pitched a two-hitter to even his record as New York defeated the Colorado Rockies 11-0.

The victory was the 81st of the season for the Mets, clinching a .500 finish in Willie Randolph’s first year as manager.

Piazza, whose contract runs out at the end of the season, connected in the fifth inning against Sunny Kim (6-3) after David Wright hit the first of his two homers. Piazza’s 19th homer soared an estimated 450 feet to the back of the bleachers in left field.

Cubs 3, Astros 2

HOUSTON – Charles Gipson was cut down at home plate for the final out following Luke Scott’s double into the right-center gap, and the Chicago Cubs beat Houston 3-2 Thursday night to cut the Astros’ lead over Philadelphia in the NL wild-card race to two games.

Derrek Lee broke a sixth-inning tie with his 46th homer, and the Cubs led by one run entering the ninth.

Ryan Dempster walked Orlando Palmeiro with one out, Gipson pinch ran and pinch-hitter Mike Lamb struck out. Scott pinch hit and doubled, with center fielder Corey Patterson cutting the ball off.

Patterson threw to second baseman Jose Macias, who made a perfect relay to catcher Henry Blanco, well ahead of Gipson.

Royals 10, Twins 6

MINNEAPOLIS – Mike Sweeney went 3-for-4 with a homer and five RBIs, helping the Kansas City Royals beat the Minnesota Twins 10-6 on Thursday night and avoid setting the club record for losses in a season.

Mark Teahen and John Buck hit solo home runs in a five-run sixth inning off rookie Travis Bowyer (0-1), who then gave up two singles before Sweeney crushed the first pitch he saw into the left-center field seats to give Kansas City a four-run lead.

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