Moved up to the third spot when the Yankees reshuffled their batting order because of drizzly weather, Cano hustled for a tiebreaking double in the seventh inning that sent New York over the Tampa Bay Devil Rays 7-4 Thursday night.
The All-Star second baseman had not hit above fifth this season and had never batted third in his major league career. But when Bobby Abreu was scratched, Cano slid into his slot.
"It means you're doing good," Cano said. "You just want to be in the lineup."
Cano doubled twice and drove in three runs, giving him 40 RBI in 36 games since missing six weeks because of a strained left hamstring. He's also hitting .339 -- he would be among the AL leaders, but is a few plate appearances short of qualifying.
The Yankees won their season-high sixth in a row and cut their magic number to six for clinching their ninth consecutive AL East title. New York could wrap it up by taking three of four from Boston this weekend, with a loss by third-place Toronto.
"Everyone is contributing," captain Derek Jeter said.
Rocco Baldelli homered twice and tripled for the Devil Rays in their fourth straight loss. He also flied out to deep center as the Yankees dropped Tampa Bay to 2-25 on the road since July 1.
"They're locked in right now. They're ready for the playoffs," Baldelli said. "I don't see many teams beating them the way they're playing right now."
With light rain falling and showers in the forecast, Yankees manager Joe Torre scratched starter Chien-Ming Wang and picked rookie Jeff Karstens to pitch.
Outfielders Johnny Damon and Abreu also were given a rest, rather than playing on the damp turf. The late switches prompted Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon to say the Yankees were bringing their "mudder" lineup for the wet track.
The Yankees did have a player injured, though it had nothing to do with the conditions. Jorge Posada was hit in the left elbow by a pitch that he swung at, left the game and is day to day.
Melky Cabrera resumed the at-bat with a 1-2 count and struck out, but it was charged to Posada.
Devil Rays starter James Shields left before the sixth because of cramping in his right hamstring, and doesn't expect to miss his next start. Shields and Karstens both pitched five innings, giving up four runs, six hits and a walk.
It was 4-4 when Kevin Thompson singled with one out in the Yankees seventh off Ruddy Lugo (2-3). After Bernie Williams singled, Shawn Camp relieved and struck out Jeter. Cano followed with a hard grounder through the hole at shortstop and ran hard for an RBI double.
Darrell Rasner (2-0) pitched four scoreless innings of one-hit ball for the win.
Down 4-1, the Yankees tied it in the fifth. Jeter hit an RBI single with two outs and Cano followed by slicing a liner that bounced out of left fielder Carl Crawford's outstretched glove near the wall and fell for a two-run double.
Matsui sent a drive off the facing of the upper deck in right field in the second, one of the best balls he could remember hitting.
"I don't know if it's the hardest, but it would fall in that category," he said through a translator.
- Jeter's hitting streak is the longest by a Yankees player since Don Mattingly's 24-game string in 1986.
- Crawford stole two bases, raising his AL-leading total to 52.
- Baldelli's first multihomer game in the majors came on his mother's birthday. He has played three times in the majors on his mom's birthday, and has homered each game.
- Devil Rays RF Delmon Young turned 21.