A little more than a month ago, the New York Yankees were afraid that a back injury might bring a premature end to the brilliant career of Don Mattingly.
The fear that two slipped disks were a serious problem was dissipated after a few days' rest, and the young first baseman has come back to set an American League home run record.
Considered more of a contact hitter than a slugger, Mattingly hit a home run in his seventh consecutive game Friday night at Arlington, Tex., to help the Yankees beat Texas, 8-4, and increase their lead in the East to four games.
Thursday night, when he hit his fourth grand slam of the season, Mattingly became the seventh player in the league ever to hit home runs in six straight games.
Facing reliever Paul Kilgus in the sixth inning Friday night, Mattingly drove a 2-1 pitch into the right-field seats to get the AL record by himself. He needs a home run in tonight's game with the Rangers to tie the major league record of eight straight games set by Dale Long of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1956.
The 25-year-old Mattingly, who went into this season with 93 home runs in 2,223 at-bats and a career .322 average, missed a home run by a foot the first time up.
"After my first hit was so close and didn't go out," Mattingly said, "I didn't think I would hit one tonight.
"To me, the record will affect me later as I think about it. For now, though, the victories are the only things that count.
"I just found the swing six or seven days ago," he said. "Something just clicked. I haven't hit a home run that I was trying to hit.
"The idea of tying the major league record will be in the back of my mind, but I'm not going to swing for it. I'm just going to keep doing the thing I've been doing."
Until he went on his spree, Mattingly had hit only 8 home runs in 61 games. He now has hit 9 in the last 7 games.
During the spree, Mattingly is 15 for 33 and has driven in 20 runs. He has raised his batting average to .338, third best in the league after a horrible start.
"Don is a good hitter," Ranger Manager Bobby Valentine said. "He's not a god, but a good hitter. He just happens to be hot right now."
Tonight, when Mattingly tries to extend his home run streak, he will face Jose Guzman of the Rangers.
Rick Rhoden, snubbed by the American League managers in the All-Star pitching selection, improved his record to 12-5 as the Yankees built a 6-0 lead in three innings. Rhoden pitched 6 innings, giving up 2 runs and 6 hits.