CLEVELAND -- Two outs from disaster, two big swings saved the New York Yankees from getting broomed out of town.
Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi homered off Bob Wickman in the ninth inning, and the Yankees avoided being swept in Cleveland for the first time since 1970 with a 4-3 win over the Indians on Thursday night.
The clutch homers prevented the Yankees from slipping farther back in the AL East and wild-card standings. Even the thought of a loss was too much for manager Joe Torre and his team to bear.
"It would have been crushing," Rodriguez said. "I know Joe wanted this game very badly."
The comeback also might have staved off a tongue-lashing from owner George Steinbrenner, who is running out of patience with his high-priced but so far underachieving collection of All-Star millionaires.
"I'm concerned that they've got to get their bats going. They've got to get it together and get playing," Steinbrenner said in Tampa, Fla., after watching right-hander Jaret Wright in a minor-league rehabilitation start.
New York, which got another homer from Giambi and one from backup catcher John Flaherty, waited until the ninth inning before rallying to beat the Indians, who were two outs from their first home sweep against the Yankees since Richard Nixon was in the White House.
"Nobody is hanging their head," Indians outfielder Casey Blake said. "You like to win every game, expect to win every game, but taking two of three against a great team is a good thing."
It could have been great, but the Yankees, who have been making dramatic comebacks an almost nightly occurrence lately, pulled out another one.
"It's not the best way to go," said Giambi, who has hit 16 of his 21 homers since July 1. "I guess we're giving fans their money's worth. It would be nice to have a couple laughers."
On the most torrid streak of his career, Giambi also homered in the fifth for New York, which stayed 4½ games behind division-leading Boston and within three games of Oakland, the wild card leader.
Rodriguez, who struck out in his first two at-bats against Kevin Millwood and grounded into an inning-ending double play, tied it 3-3 with his 30th homer -- a long shot into the left field bleachers off Wickman (0-3).
Rodriguez somehow got his bat low enough to lift Wickman's pitch and tie Boston's Manny Ramirez for the league lead in homers. As Rodriguez rounded the bases, Wickman looked at catcher Victor Martinez and asked if the pitch was low.
"It was down," Torre said. "But Alex was able to get underneath it."
Wickman marveled at Rodriguez's ability to drop his bat head and hit out a pitch that most players can't handle.
"He went down and got it," said Wickman, appearing in his fourth straight game. "It wasn't the worst pitch in the world. Some guys foul it back, some guys hit it out. Heck, if it's not for me, we win three games."
One out later, and with the pressure off him to tie it thanks to Rodriguez, Giambi lifted a drive to right which barely cleared the glove of a leaping Blake, who thought he had a chance to make a play.
As Giambi's homer cleared the wall, thousands of Yankees fans, who had been taunted by chanting Cleveland fans moments earlier, broke into the familiar sounds of "Let's Go Yankees!"
In New York's dugout, Torre just shook his head at Giambi's latest heroics.
"He goes up there when we need a home run and he hits one," Torre said, shaking his head. "I marvel at Jason."
Giambi, who hit 14 homers in July, has five multihomer games this season -- all since July 4 -- and five homers in his last five games.
"I'm getting my pitches and I'm not missing them," Giambi said. "This was a big win for us. We had to kick and scratch for everything."
Mariano Rivera worked a perfect ninth for his 27th save. Baseball's most consistent closer hasn't blown a save since April 6 against Boston.
Wickman wrecked another nice outing by Millwood, who limited the Yankees to two homers and eight hits in eight innings. The right-hander, who has had to scrap for everything he's gotten this season because of a lack of support, walked none and struck out eight.
Millwood had no problem with manager Eric Wedge's decision to lift him with three outs to go.
"I was done," he said. "I used my last bit in the eighth. If I came out for the ninth I would have been really tired. You've got to know when you're done."
Hafner went 2-for-4 in his first game since missing 17 with a concussion.
- Torre's 944th win as Yankees manager tied Ralph Houk for fourth on the club's career list.
- The three-game series drew 110,242 fans.
- During the bottom of the sixth, New York's Randy Johnson, armed with a dustpan and broom, assisted one of the bat boys in sweeping the dugout floor.
- In the press box, Hall of Famer Bob Feller browsed through this week's profile about him in Sports Illustrated.
- The Yankees have 28 homers in 14 games.