" Unsung hero: Melky Cabrera staked Mussina to an early lead with his fifth homer in the second.
" Figure this: Kansas City's starter Thursday was Jorge De La Rosa, who gave up A-Rod's 400th homer two years ago. A-Rod, who turns 32 Friday, would surpass Jimmie Foxx (32 years, 338 days) as the youngest player to reach 500 homers.
" Weird but true: If A-Rod homers Friday in Baltimore, in the resumed game that was suspended on June 28th, Wednesday's HR would become his 500th (the HR in the suspended game would be No. 493).
" Quotable: "I'm going to pitch him very carefully." -- De La Rosa, about the prospect of facing Rodriguez with No. 500 possible
-- ESPN.com news services
Yankees 7, Royals 1
A little over two years ago, De La Rosa gave up Rodriguez's 400th career home run. Guess who'll be on the mound for Kansas City on Thursday night, when A-Rod tries to become the youngest member of the 500-homer club?
"It's a crazy thing," Rodriguez said after hitting No. 499 off Gil Meche in the eighth inning of Wednesday night's 7-1 victory over the Royals. "It's pretty unbelievable that it could actually work out that way."
De La Rosa was pitching for Milwaukee on June 8, 2005, when Rodriguez became the first player with 400 homers before his 30th birthday. He had little to say Wednesday night about the prospect of facing Rodriguez with No. 500 possible.
"I'm going to pitch him very carefully," De La Rosa said.
Rodriguez had a chance to reach 500 in the ninth inning, but as flashbulbs popped he struck out against former teammate Octavio Dotel.
"I think for the most part, he would like to get it over with, and I know we would like to get it over with," manager Joe Torre said. "But you're seeing something special."
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.
"We're just looking for wins every day," Rodriguez said. "It's hard for me to think about this when every game is so important for us. I don't do a good job of celebrating or savoring anything."
Besides, he said, he never expected to be a slugger when he came into the majors in 1994.
"I was a shortstop," he said. "So I figured if I hit a hundred home runs and got a few thousand hits, that'd be pretty phenomenal. I came from a pretty humble background in Miami and I never thought I'd come this far."
But now, Rodriguez is going for his 500th -- at the same time that San Francisco's Barry Bonds nears Hank Aaron's career record of 755.
"He's under a little more pressure than I am," Rodriguez said. "He's got all kinds of people watching him. I'm kind of stealthier, doing my thing. And I think it's kind of different, because we're in the middle of a pennant race."
If Rodriguez can stay healthy, Torre said, someday he'll be in a position to surpass Bonds.
"We see him every day and we watch what he does, and you knock on wood that he stays healthy," Torre said. "That's the key. That's the luck part of this game."
With its 11th win in 13 games, New York closed within 6 1/2 games of the AL East-leading Red Sox. The Yankees, who trailed by 14 1/2 games in late May, had not been this close since they were six back of Boston before play on May 10.
"We like what we're doing," Torre said. "There's obviously a lot of baseball left, and the important part from here on out is to make sure the good streaks outnumber the bad ones, to minimize the damage and try to maximize what we're doing now."
New York (54-46), a season-high eight games above .500, got 13 hits for the third straight night and stayed 4 1/2 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.
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, boosted the margin to 5-1. Matsui greeted Jimmy Gobble with his 18th homer, his 10th of July. Andy Phillips added an RBI double.
Yankees captain Derek Jeter was hit in the upper left arm by Dotel's pitch in the ninth inning and was lifted for a pinch runner as a precaution. Jeter figured he'd play Thursday.
Kansas City stranded nine runners -- five in scoring position.
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. ... Torre wouldn't say 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.