OAKLAND, Calif. -- The bad news about the New York Yankees' starting pitching staff kept piling up: injuries, ineffectiveness, questions about who would pitch the next time through the rotation.
Then Aaron Small of all people gave the Yankees the start they desperately needed. Replacing the injured Mike Mussina, Small pitched his first career shutout to help the Yankees move back into a tie for the AL wild-card lead with a 7-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics on Saturday.
"He's become someone you rely on," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We started the season with the starters we had and we certainly didn't foresee this. You have some bad surprises with the injuries, and you can have some good ones like this."
It's been a long journey for the 33-year-old Small to this point. A 22nd-round pick by Toronto in 1989, Small took five years to make it to the majors. He made three starts in 1996, 118 relief appearances the next two seasons and then pitched only eight times in the majors the next six seasons.
Small signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees in January but figured to get few chances to start since New York had Mussina, Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, Kevin Brown and Jaret Wright in front of him.
But Pavano and Brown went down earlier in the season, Mussina acknowledged Friday that he might miss the rest of the season and Wright was hit by a line drive in the neck Thursday that put his next start in jeopardy. Al Leiter then got knocked out in the first inning of a 12-0 loss Friday, putting pressure on Small to deliver.
"It really hasn't sunk in yet," Small said. "To do it at this level, with this team, in this kind of race we're in. I'm just glad I could help this team. They gave me an opportunity. They had the faith to bring me up here."
His first shutout at any level since 1996 with Triple-A Edmonton moved New York into a tie with Oakland (76-59) atop the wild-card standings, with Cleveland (75-59) and AL West-leading Los Angeles (76-58) playing later Saturday.
Jason Giambi hit a three-run homer, Hideki Matsui drove in New York's first two runs without a hit and Alex Rodriguez added a two-run single in a six-run seventh inning as the Yankees responded following two straight losses and yet another team meeting called before the game by Torre. The Yankees began the day 3½ games behind Boston in the AL East, providing a sense or urgency for the final four weeks, but Torre insisted after the meeting that "my team is fine."
"We're in a pennant race, but the mentality is more of a postseason situation where every game is important enough to win right now," Torre said. "We can't be thinking long term."
Making his first start since Aug. 10, Small (6-0) struck out three, walked two and didn't allow a runner to reach third base. After going nine years between major-league starts, Small is 4-0 in five starts this season.
The A's have been shut out an AL-worst 11 times this season and have lost three of four overall, scoring just one run in the losses.
"He used all his stuff on both sides of the plate," Oakland's Jason Kendall said. "We had a good game yesterday. We didn't swing the bats well today."
While the end result was a blowout, the game was tight early as Kirk Saarloos (9-7) held the Yankees in check through the first six innings.
After Derek Jeter was intentionally walked, Ricardo Rincon relieved and got Matsui to hit a hard one-hopper to second baseman Mark Ellis, who nearly started an inning-ending double play. Matsui narrowly beat the relay from shortstop Marco Scutaro, scoring the second run of the game.
"I tried to waste a few pitches with him," Duchscherer said. "I got one up and in and he made me pay."
The Yankees scored their first run in the third after Cano and Crosby opened the frame with singles. After Cano was thrown out at third on a double-steal attempt, Jeter singled to put runners on first and third.
Matsui then hit a sacrifice fly to center, but the Yankees almost didn't score on the play when Jay Payton nearly threw out Jeter at second just before Crosby crossed home plate.
- Matsui reached 100 RBI, joining Rodriguez and Sheffield in triple figures for the second consecutive year. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time three Yankees drove in 100 runs two years in a row, was in 1936-37 when Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey did it.
- Saarloos failed to strike out a batter for the sixth time in 23 starts and has one or fewer Ks in 12 starts.
- Wright played catch before the game and plans to throw a side-session Sunday to determine if he can start Wednesday. "I'll know more tomorrow. As far as today, it went all right," he said.