Hernandez buzzed Kenny Lofton with his first pitch,

By Ben Walker Associated Press Published:

Hernandez buzzed Kenny Lofton with his first pitch, then breezed in throwing a four-hitter that led the New York Yankees over the Cleveland Indians 6-3 Saturday.

"He was so great," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "It looked like he had everything working, pitching inside."

A day after their 11-1 romp, the Indians looked feeble against El Duque, who retired the first 14 batters. Cleveland's lead in the AL wild-card race was cut to one game over Oakland and Boston.

"It's great because I didn't have to throw many pitches," Hernandez said through an interpreter. "I'm trying to get in optimum form."

Luis Sojo, part of Torre's patchwork lineup, drove in three runs and Glenallen Hill and Jorge Posada hit solo home runs before a sellout crowd of 55,097. New York cut its magic number for clinching the AL East to 10 over Boston.

The Yankees played without Paul O'Neill and Bernie Williams, out with injuries, and Derek Jeter, who got a day off.

Sojo started in Jeter's shortstop spot and hit a two-run single that capped a three-run second inning and added an RBI triple in the fourth.

"I was kind of surprised I was playing shortstop. I'm glad I came through," Sojo said.

By then, Hernandez (12-11) had all the support he needed.

Fresh off a clubhouse talk Friday with former Cuban ace Luis Tiant, Hernandez threw high-and-tight to Lofton to begin the game.

Hernandez set down the first nine Indians batters on only 22 pitches. David Segui singled with two outs in the fifth for Cleveland's first runner.

Russell Branyan hit his 16th home run leading off the Indians' sixth.

Omar Vizquel singled with one out in the ninth and Manny Ramirez hit his 31st homer with two outs.

"He looked pretty good to us," Vizquel said of Hernandez. "He made some adjustments in the way he pitched, maybe. We hadn't seen him in a long time."

Hernandez had been 0-4 in regular-season games against the Indians, though he beat them in a pivotal Game 4 of the 1998 AL Championship Series.

Hernandez walked none, struck out six and used just 98 pitches in his third complete game. Coming off a shaky six-inning effort against Boston last Monday, he was in complete control, especially against the Indians' left-handed hitters.

"He was so economical," Torre said.

Hernandez hit Lofton in the hip in the sixth, and the Indians leadoff man seemed to take exception, wind-milling his bat hard into the ground.

Jason Bere (5-3) made his first start in 11 days and did not last long. He gave up five runs on seven hits and three walks in 3 2/3 innings.

Hill hit his 14th homer with one out in the second. The Yankees went on to load the bases with two outs, and Sojo singled.

A two-out walk in the fourth preceded Sojo's triple, and David Justice followed with a double that chased Bere.

Posada hit his 26th homer in the fifth off Jim Brower.

Notes: Yankees OF Clay Bellinger singled in the second, breaking an 0-for-26 slump. ... It was the eighth home sellout of the season for the Yankees. They need 5,071 more fans to reach the 3 million mark. ... Branyan has 35 hits in 146 at-bats this year _ along with his 16 homers, he has five doubles and a triple. ... Hernandez has allowed 31 home runs, third-most in the AL. ... The Indians used six pitchers. Cleveland has just started a 10-day, 12-game road trip, and manager Charlie Manuel appeared to be spreading the work load. ... The Yankees stranded 12 runners, including at least one in every inning. ... Hill and Ramirez each homered for the second straight day.

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