A.J. does his part

You must have heard the expression dozens of times over the past 24 hours that A.J. Burnett would be on a short leash as the starter for the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Division Series. No surprise there, of course, considering how erratic and unreliable Burnett has been the past two seasons.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi gave an indication of just how short that rope was Tuesday night by having Cory Wade warm up in the bullpen in the first inning. Burnett walked the bases loaded (one walk was intentional), which made the skipper nervous enough to be prepared for an early hook.

A.J. was visited on the mound by pitching coach Larry Rothschild but got an even bigger boost from center fielder Curtis Granderson, who made a sensational running catch of a drive by Don Kelly for the third out of the inning. That was the beginning of the Yankees’ support for their teammate.

They gave Burnett a 2-0 lead in the third on Derek Jeter’s double to center off Tigers starter Rick Porcello that scored Jorge Posada, who was hit by a pitch, and Russell Martin, who singled up the middle. Those were the first two RBI in the series for the Captain, who had come to bat with 14 runners on base before he knocked anyone in.

Jeter came up with two runners aboard again in the fifth and attempted a sacrifice, a good play since there were no outs. A remarkable play by third baseman Wilson Betemit ruined it all. He broke back to third on the bunt and had to reach across his body to glove Porcello’s throw that was to Betemit’s left and somehow he tagged the bag before Martin arrived with a head-first slide. Let’s hope Eduardo Nunez was paying attention. The rookie had problems several times in that situation when he filled in for Alex Rodriguez at third base.

Even though Jeter didn’t advance the runners, they came around to score anyway on a double by Curtis Granderson and a sacrifice fly by Rodriguez, who still does not have a hit in the series but has driven in three runs.

Burnett has a history of not shutting down opponents the inning after the Yankees score, and when Austin Jackson led off the fifth with a single it seemed a here-we-go-again moment. But the Yankees turned a double play behind A.J. on a grounder by Ramon Santiago, and Burnett got Delmon Young on a pepper shot to come away unscathed.

Girardi let Burnett start the sixth, a questionable move considering Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, Detroit’s two most productive hitters, were the first two batters, but Burnett retired both on balls hit in the infield. After Kelly singled, Burnett was relieved by Rafael Soriano. One run in 5 2/3 innings for Burnett, find me a Yankees fan who would not settle for that.

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