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Monday July 2, 2001
Devil Rays 1 @ Yankees 7

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Like a fine wine, Luis Sojo sits unnoticed, just waiting to be used.

"In case of emergency, break glass and whip him out," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.

The 35-year-old infielder had sat on the bench for 14 games until manager Joe Torre decided to give third baseman Scott Brosius the day off Monday.

Sojo, who brought his family to the ballpark to witness the rare start, responded with a pair of nifty plays in the field and hit a tiebreaking two-run single in the seventh inning as the New York Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 7-1 Monday to complete a four-game sweep.

"It's kind of fun," Sojo said. "You don't get to play much, but it seems every time I go up there, something happens."

Sojo's drive helped set off a whole bunch of streaks:

Chuck Knoblauch capped the six-run inning with a three-run homer that ended an 0-for-16 slump.

New York, 47-33 with one game left to the season's midpoint, extended its longest winning streak to five and, with eight wins in 10 games, moved 14 games over .500 for the first time this year.

Mike Mussina (9-7) won his fourth straight start by defeating Albie Lopez (3-11), who became the first AL pitcher to lose 10 consecutive decisions since Derek Lowe's 11-game slide from June 1997 to June 1998.

"We've been very close," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We've played well for a long time now."

Sojo hasn't seen much time this year, entering Monday with five 35 at-bats -- five since May 17. Given a chance to play regularly last year, first with Pittsburgh, then with the Yankees when Knoblauch was removed from second base, he hit .286.

But with little time at the plate, he was just .162 (6-for-37) when he came up against Lopez in the seventh with the score tied at 1. He didn't waste time, slapping the first pitch up the middle and sending Lopez flying.

"You don't find many players in this business that can come in once and a while and perform that way," Mussina said. "That's why he's so valuable for this club."

Sojo, who helped the Yankees win titles in 1996, 1998 and 1999, returned last August and became a key when Knoblauch's arm got worse. Sojo got the World Series-winning hit against the Mets and on June 4 had the game-winning single against Boston.

Sojo made his first start of the year at third base, where he made a great backhanded stop and long throw across the diamond to retire John Flaherty in the sixth.

"He can sit on the bench for days or months, and he comes of the bench and does something like that," Knoblauch said in wonder.

With school over, Sojo's wife, Zuleima, son Luis and daughter LesLuis came up Sunday from Venezuela. He hadn't seen his kids in three months.

"Brought me good luck," Sojo said, smiling as always.

Knoblauch could use some of that luck.

After Soriano, whose opposite-field homer in the third gave New York its first run, chased Lopez with an RBI double, Knoblauch came up against hard-throwing Jesus Colome.

Knoblauch's swing has been out of whack for weeks, causing the Yankees to listen to trade offers. His average down to .247, Knoblauch took two pitches, then sent a shoulder-high fastball into the first deck in right, snapping his head in approval as the ball landed.

"It felt good to contribute," Knoblauch said. "Anything positive can carry over. That's what slumps are about. You start to lose your confidence."

Lopez took a two-hitter into the seventh on a crisp sunny afternoon that seemed more like September than July. He wound up with another defeat as Tampa Bay, the worst team in the major leagues at 24-58, lost for the 16th time in 19 games, dropping to 1-6 against the Yankees.

"It doesn't matter. You look at the final results," Lopez said.

New York thinks it's played well, but not well enough. The three-time defending champions headed to Baltimore hoping to overcome its half-game deficit against AL East-leading Boston before next week's All-Star break.

"The won-loss doesn't mean anything," Cashman said. "It's where you are in the standings, and we're not in first place. That's the bottom line."

Game notes
Jose Lima lost 13 straight decisions last year with Houston. ... Soriano's homer bounced off and over the top of the right-field wall. ... Steve Cox's homer to right tied it in the fifth. ... It was Derek Jeter bobblehead doll day. They didn't look much like him. ... David Justice was put back on the disabled list by the Yankees before the game because of his injured left groin and Clay Bellinger was recalled from Columbus.