A-Rod helps lead Yankees past his former team

SEATTLE -- On the 16th anniversary of his major league debut, Alex Rodriguez again left Seattle buzzing.

This time the Yankees star simply extended a miserable season for the Mariners.

Rodriguez punched a two-run single into right field in the ninth inning to give the Yankees their first lead, and Mariano Rivera closed out New York's 3-1 victory Thursday night.

Fake money still flutters from the upper deck of Safeco Field when Rodriguez comes to the plate and the boos remain lusty after 10 years, a reminder of when Rodriguez left the team he started with for a massive contract in Texas. The crowd roared when Rodriguez was clearly behind David Aardsma's first pitch in the ninth, a 98 mph fastball.

But the numerous Yankees fans cheered after A-Rod fought off Aardsma's fastball and pushed it through the right side of the infield to score Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher with the deciding runs.

"We have confidence that we were going to come up with the big hit," Rodriguez said. "But we also left a lot of guys on base. We're just thinking of one opportunity to win the game."

The Yankees won their sixth straight overall and fifth in a row away from home, both season highs. Rodriguez got the spotlight for his late heroics, but Andy Pettitte deserved much of the credit for keeping the Yankees close on a night their offense failed to move runners until the ninth.

After Jeter's one-out walk, Swisher capped an All-Star day with his fourth hit and second double to move Jeter to third. Mark Teixeira fouled out before Rodriguez got Aardsma for the second time in a week. A week ago at Yankee Stadium, Aardsma (0-6) gave up a tiebreaking homer in the eighth inning to A-Rod, his first career hit off the Seattle closer.

"I was trying to go away and the ball came back over the plate. It kind of jammed him but he muscled it through the hole," Aardsma said. "What are you going to do?"

Pettitte (11-2) threw eight strong innings. All the talk of him retiring in the offseason seems silly now, with the 38-year-old left-hander headed to his third All-Star Game -- and first since 2001.

Pettitte won his third straight decision, pitching into the eighth and giving up only one run that was partly his fault. He yielded five hits, allowed just one baserunner between the first and sixth and struck out nine.

"If someone would have said Andy would be 11-2 at the break, it would be hard to anticipate that," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It would be hard to anticipate that for any pitcher."

Making his first appearance since pulling out of the All-Star Game on Tuesday due to nagging injuries, Rivera struck out Casey Kotchman on the 12th pitch of the at-bat, got a weak grounder from Josh Bard and Josh Wilson's lineout for his 20th save in 22 chances.

It was the 68th time Rivera saved a win for Pettitte, extending their major league record.

Seattle had a few chances, scoring once in the sixth but missing an opportunity at a big inning.

Wilson started the inning with a single, the second Seattle batter to reach base since the first inning. Michael Saunders showed bunt, pulled back and laced a single to center.

Ichiro Suzuki bunted for a single and Pettitte threw wildly to first, allowing Wilson to score and the runners to advance on the error.

"I just panicked. I know he's running and I know I'm slow and I just panicked. It's terrible," Pettitte said.

Then came the failures.

Chone Figgins grounded out to third, and after an intentional walk to load the bases, Pettitte struck out Russell Branyan (looking) and Jose Lopez (swinging).

Lopez went 0-for-4 and saw just six pitches.

Jason Vargas held down the Yankees even though he put runners on in every inning. Vargas pitched seven shutout innings, only to find trouble in the eighth.

Rodriguez walked on four pitches to start the inning and moved to second on Robinson Cano's single. That was the end for Vargas, and Rodriguez moved to third when reliever Brian Sweeney bounced a wild pitch to Jorge Posada in the dirt. Posada later grounded into a double play, but Rodriguez scored.

Game notes
Mariners LHP Cliff Lee said in a radio interview Thursday that the Mariners decided to wait and not start negotiations on a contract extension during spring training. Later in the day, Lee said there have been no talks since the spring and that fact is "not an issue." Lee starts for Seattle on Friday. ... Pettitte's start was his 392nd with the Yankees, moving him into second place on the franchise list.