OAKLAND -- A.J. Griffin's brief major league career has been marked by stiff challenges, and he conquered another one Thursday night.
The rookie right-hander limited the New York Yankees to two runs over six innings as the A's notched a 4-3 victory in the opener of a four-game series against the majors' top team.
The A's snapped their nine-game losing streak to the Yankees at the Oakland Coliseum, tied for their second-longest against any team. Overall, they had lost 30 of 37 to New York dating to 2008.
"It was nice, and I think important, to get a win in the first game so we don't have to hear about how many in a row," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "They've certainly had their way with us here."
Yoenis Cespedes got things going for the A's with a two-run home run in the first inning off Freddy Garcia (4-3), and Seth Smith added a two-run single in the third. That was all the A's needed to move to 11-2 in July, the best mark in the majors.
At 48-44, they are four games over .500 for the first time since May 31, 2010. The A's also moved to 71/2 behind the first-place Texas Rangers in the American League West and remained a half-game behind Detroit for the second wild-card spot.
Griffin (2-0) has notched quality starts (six innings with three earned runs or fewer allowed) in all five of his big league starts.
His debut came against the Giants before a packed crowd at the Coliseum. Then he pitched well at Texas and
Griffin held in check a Yankees squad that is a major league best 57-35 and came in with 146 homers, most in franchise history after 91 games. He did it with a familiar formula, moving his low-90s fastball around the strike zone and complementing it with a curveball that drops into the high 60s.
"That's been my bread and butter lately," Griffin said. "Even if they know it's coming, I feel like they have a hard time staying back on it. That's all pitching is, adding and subtracting with velocity."
Griffin has a laid-back personality on days he pitches, and that calm demeanor serves him well. He said he has tried to keep hitters "nameless and faceless."
Cespedes connected for his 12th homer on a 1-1 pitch from Garcia. He is riding a seven-game hitting streak and is 14 for 26 with nine RBIs during that span.
Cespedes received high praise before the game from Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson.
"He's a fantastic athlete," Henderson said. "He's got all the tools. All he can do is just get better and better. He'll be one of the best players in the game."
The A's led 4-2 when closer Ryan Cook allowed a homer to Nick Swisher in the ninth, but Cook closed it out for his 10th save.
Cespedes played mostly center field in Cuba, and he began this season in center before the A's moved him to left on June 1.
Henderson knows that transition well. He came up through the A's system as a center fielder but shifted to left shortly after getting to the majors in 1979.
"Baseball is a faster game in left field than center," Henderson said. "The ball gets on you quicker, the ball moves in different directions. Really, you've just got to have quick feet and get to the ball as quick as you can."
Cespedes was part of a bizarre putout at third base in the top of the first when he dropped Robinson Cano's liner with runners at first and second. Everyone seemed to freeze.
Cespedes overthrew third base, but Griffin backed up, caught the ball and tagged third for the force-out. He threw to second and nearly competed a double play.
Jackson, a special adviser, stayed away from the team for several games following his comments to Sports Illustrated in which he questioned the credentials of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez based on his performance-enhancing drug use.
Jackson declined to discuss the issue with reporters.