KANSAS CITY — Alex Rodriguez moved within one of the 500-home run club, helping the New York Yankees get as close to the Boston Red Sox as they’ve been in 2½ months.
Rodriguez hit his 499th homer, and Melky Cabrera and Hideki Matsui also went deep in a 7-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night that extended the Yankees’ winning streak to six.
Seeking to become the youngest player to reach 500 home runs, Rodriguez connected in the eighth inning off Gil Meche. Kansas City’s starter Thursday is Jorge De La Rosa, who gave up A-Rod’s 400th home run two years ago.
Rodriguez had a chance to reach 500 in the ninth inning, but as flashbulbs popped, he struck out against former teammate Octavio Dotel.
On June 8, 2005, Rodriguez hit his 400th home run off De La Russa, then with Milwaukee. A-Rod, who turns 32 Friday, would surpass Jimmie Foxx (32 years, 338 days) as the youngest player to reach 500 homers. Rodriguez would be the 22nd to reach the mark and the second this season behind Frank Thomas.
With its 11th win in 13 games, New York closed within 6½ games of the AL East-leading Red Sox. The Yankees, who trailed by 14½ games in late May, had not been this close since trailing Boston by six games before play on May 10.
New York (54-46), a season-high eight games above .500, got 13 hits for the third straight night and stayed 4½ games behind Cleveland, the AL wild-card leader.
Mike Mussina (5-7) allowed one run and six hits in 52/3 innings. He had been 0-2 in three starts since beating Oakland on June 29.
Gil Meche (7-7) gave up five runs and nine hits in 71/3 innings, ending a hot streak that saw him go 4-0 in seven starts following a 4-0 loss to Philadelphia on June 9.
After scoring 63 runs in their five previous games — their best five-game output since 1931 — the Yankees managed just two runs in the first six innings.
Cabrera, who had three RBIs, put the Yankees ahead with a two-run home run in the second. After Reggie Sanders chased Mussina with an RBI single in the sixth, Cabrera’s sacrifice fly made it 3-1 in the seventh.
Rodriguez’s major league-leading 35th home run, a two-run drive that finished Meche, made it 5-1. Matsui greeted Jimmy Gobble with his 18th home run, his 10th of July. Andy Phillips added an RBI double.
Kansas City stranded nine runners — five in scoring position.
ELARTRON RELEASED: The Royals released struggling right-hander Scott Elarton on Wednesday, one day after bringing him off the disabled list for a disastrous start against the New York Yankees.
Elarton, the Royals’ opening day starter in 2006, has never regained his form since shoulder surgery sidelined him for the final 71 games of last season and the first 36 games this year.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that Scotty will hook up with somebody, and we’ll probably see him in the big leagues at some point this season,” manager Buddy Bell said. “I think Scotty felt like he was spinning his wheels here. We gave him an option that he could have gone to Omaha, but I think it’s probably best that he hooks on with somebody else and starts over.”
The 31-year-old Elarton, in the second year of a two-year, $8 million contract with the Royals, came off the DL on Tuesday after sitting out 26 games with a sprained right foot.
Against the Yankees, he lasted only 1 2/3 innings, giving up seven runs and six hits. His ERA rose from 9.17 to 10.46, and his record dropped to 2-4.
“It’s about results here,” Elarton said after that game. “I’ve definitely recovered, but I’m not back to where I want to be.”
The Royals made no immediate move to fill Elarton’s roster spot, but Bell said the team expected to call up a relief pitcher.
Elarton had been expected to start Sunday against Texas. Bell said right-hander Leo Nunez likely would be recalled from Triple-A Omaha to make the start.
Nunez did well in his first career start, on July 17 at Boston. He took a shutout into the fifth inning of the Royals’ 9-3 victory but did not get the decision.
because he was on a pitch count and did not complete the required five innings.