An aching left ankle limited Jeter to the designated hitter's role on Thursday night. But his RBI single in the seventh inning provided a cushion for Phil Hughes and helped the Yankees win consecutive games for the first time in a month with a 2-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox.
New York kept pace with the Baltimore Orioles, who completed a three-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays with a 3-2, 14-inning win.
Jeter's 3,283rd hit put him alongside Mays.
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"It's kind of hard to think about it now because you're trying to win games, especially this time of year," Jeter said, "but I'd be lying to you if I didn't think it was special."
And he did it "on probably about one ankle," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "That's who he is. He's a fighter and he finds a way, and he gets the big hit tonight. It was impressive."
Jeter was 0 for 3 then blooped the single to center field. With 19 games left, he has a chance to move into ninth place. He is 30 behind Eddie Collins' 3,313.
The Yankees captain aggravated the ankle in Wednesday night's 5-4 win when he pulled up lame lunging for first base trying to avoid a double-play grounder in the eighth.
"I'm fine," he said. "Everything's good."
Hughes (15-12) retired his first 10 batters and gave up five hits in 7 1/3 innings. He struck out seven, walked one and allowed just three runners past first base, ending a streak of seven straight starts in which he allowed home runs. Hughes has given up two or fewer runs in five of his last six starts.
"Hughes pitched up in the strike zone and we couldn't lay off it," Boston manager Bobby Valentine said. "We were immature in our approach at times."
Rafael Soriano pitched the ninth for his 38th save in 41 chances.
New York, which led the division by 10 games before play on July 19, went 5-5 on a trip to Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Boston.
After winning two in a row for the first time since taking three straight from Texas over Aug. 13-15, the Yankees return home for nine games against the Rays, Toronto and Oakland. They then play three games at Minnesota and four at Toronto before finishing up with a three-game series in the Bronx against Boston.
Knowing that the Orioles already had won, temporarily taking over sole possession of first place, didn't affect the Yankees' approach.
"If it was the last game of the season [it might have]," Jeter said, "but we know we have enough games left to where once again we have to win our games. That's the bottom line. It doesn't really make a difference what they do because we can't control it. All we can do is control how we play and we had a good game tonight."
Boston lost for the 13th time in 15 games, lowering its magic number for AL East elimination to two. The Red Sox fielded a lineup with only five players who started the season in the majors. Dustin Pedroia missed the game to be with his wife, who gave birth to their second child.
"The atmosphere was a little dull in here for the first time in a long time," Hughes said, "just being the way the Red Sox season has gone this year. So, if anything, it felt like a normal game."
Felix Doubront (10-9) gave up two runs and four hits in 6 1/3 innings, dropping to 0-5 with a 7.38 ERA in his last eight starts.
New York loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth on a single by Alex Rodriguez, who stole second, and walks to Robinson Cano and Russell Martin. Andruw Jones hit a sacrifice fly, and Curtis Granderson lined out to first baseman James Loney, who stepped on first for a double play.
"That was big," Doubront said. "Last week that situation came up and I didn't respond. I responded pretty well tonight. I'm happy to limit the damage that inning."
- Yankees LHP Andy Pettitte is scheduled to start against Toronto on Tuesday, his first appearance since June 27 when his left ankle was broken by a liner from Cleveland's Casey Kotchman.
- Comedian Bill Cosby threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
- Actors Larry David and Jon Hamm were in the crowd.
- Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-5) turned 32 on Thursday. He is scheduled to pitch for Boston on Friday night against Aaron Laffey (3-5) in the opener of a three-game series at Toronto.
- CC Sabathia (13-5) starts for the Yankees on Friday against David Price (17-5).