Results tagged ‘ Bartolo Colon ’

A-Rod has not earned starting nod

Alex Rodriguez has had a hard time getting in the Yankees’ starting lineup the past two weeks. Thursday night in Game 4 of the Subway Series seemed to be his best chance of cracking into the lineup because Bartolo Colon was the starting pitcher for the Mets.

To say A-Rod has owned “Big Sexy” in his career is a huge understatement. In 52 career at-bats against Colon, Rodriguez has batted .442 with seven doubles, one triple and eight home runs.

Yet when manager Joe Girardi posted his lineup, there was no Rodriguez in it. For the second straight night, the designated hitter role was filled by Gary Sanchez, the Yankees’ prized catching prospect who was recently recalled from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Sanchez got his first major-league hit, a single to center field in the seventh inning, as part of a 1-for-4 game Wednesday night in the Yankees’ 9-5 victory.

Sanchez had two more hits Thursday night in the 4-1 loss to the Mets that turned this year’s Subway Series into a push as each club won two games. Sanchez scored the Yankees’ run in the seventh. He doubled with one out off Colon and scored on a two-out single by Aaron Hicks off reliever Jerry Blevins. Sanchez beat out an infield single in the ninth off Mets closer Jeurys Familia (38th save) to bring the potential tying run to the plate before Rob Refsnyder grounded into a game-ending double play.

Otherwise, it was all Mets, due largely to Colon (10-6), the 43-year-old marvel who gave up one run, six hits and no walks with one strikeout in 6 1/3 innings. Yankees starter Nathan Eovaldi (9-8) had one bad inning in seven — the fifth — but it was a brutal one.

Kelly Johnson led off with a Yankee Stadium right field porch home run. One out later, Curtis Granderson doubled to left-center. Eovaldi then made a pivotal mistake on a check-swing grounder to the mound by Alejandro De Aza by throwing to second base in an attempt to cut down Granderson, but he slid back into the bag safely, costing the Yanks a possible sure out at first base.

After Neil Walker lined out, Jay Bruce, obtained earlier this week in a trade from the Reds, made his first contribution to the Mets with a three-run home run to right-center. Bruce had been 0-for-10 with four strikeouts since joining the Mets before that homer, his 26th, that raised his National League leading RBI total to 83.

Girardi acknowledged that Rodriguez’s statistics against Colon were “tremendous,” but also pointed out “most of those numbers came many, many years ago.”

Indeed, A-Rod ran up those stats against Colon in the previous decade while he was winning three American League Most Valuable Player Awards against a pitcher who copped an AL Cy Young Award, in 2005 with the Angels. Girardi added that when Rodriguez last faced Colon, in 2012, he was 1-for-6.

As frustrated as Rodriguez may be, at 41 he has not shown much at the plate to warrant his playing regularly. A-Rod started the first five games after the All-Star break and batted .188 with one home run and one RBI in 16 at-bats. He has started once in the past 12 games and struck out four times in that game. Rodriguez has one hit, a single, in his past 19 at-bats as his season batting average has shrunk to .204 with nine homers and 29 RBI in 216 at-bats. He has been stuck at 696 career home runs since July 18.

In defending his decision not to start Rodriguez against Colon, Girardi said most of his problems have come against right-handed pitching. True enough, A-Rod is hitting .196 against righties this year. Wednesday night, he also sat against a left-handed starter, Steven Matz, but Rodriguez has not exactly lit it up against lefties, either (.219).

Girardi denied that he was being told by the front office not to play Rodriguez, who is under contract through the 2017 season. And despite reports suggesting that the Yankees have discussed releasing Rodriguez and eating the $27 million due him over the remainder of his contract, general manager Brian Cashman told ESPN Radio there have been no such talks.

“First and foremost, you just have to flat-out admit, it is not easy to eat — meaning release — that kind of money,” Cashman said. “It’s not something you come to a quick decision on. You see players — and I don’t want to name them because they are still playing — but there are players around the game who are on big contracts that have been well-below-average players now for many years, not just a year. Alex hit 33 home runs last year. This is a bigger media market and more attention, and there is certainly a tempest about what should be done. All I can tell you is, slow down a little bit and here is the counterarguments: There is a very large financial commitment through next year on a player of Alex’s caliber that was productive as early as last year.”

The financial considerations are for the front office to worry about. That is not the manager’s concern. He has to put the players in the lineup that give his team the best chance to win. It has been some time since Rodriguez fit into that equation.

I remember years ago talking to a manager who had an aging superstar on his team. The manager said, “The best piece of advice I got from a managing mentor of mine was not to argue with your general manager over the 25th player on the roster and try not to let a star fall on you.”

It is one of the most difficult assignments for any manager, to find a way for a player well past his prime to maintain his dignity while dealing with severely diminished skills.

Also missing from the lineup was Mark Teixeira, who had a big game Wednesday night (three-run home run, two walks, hit by a pitch). The HBP by Matz left Tex with a bruised left shin.

Earning a return to the rotation was Luis Severino, who got his first victory of the season for not allowing an earned run in 4 1/3 innings in relief of Chad Green, who was optioned to SWB. Severino will start next Tuesday night at Boston.

Yanks have major workload after ‘vacation’

SAN DIEGO — Carlos Beltran quickly reminded reporters that at 39 he is not the oldest player on either All-Star squad. American League teammate David Ortiz of the Red Sox is 40, the same age as Beltran’s Yankees teammate, Alex Rodriguez. National League pitcher Bartolo Colon of the Mets is older than all of them at 43.

“I’m great, man,” Beltran said. “I feel happy. I feel blessed. I’m 39 years old. Most of the guys here, other than Bartolo and David — I’m the third oldest player in the All-Star Game. Just being able to be here is gratifying and, for me, it’s motivational.”

Beltran certainly earned his ninth All-Star selection with a strong first half in which he has led the Yankees in all three Triple Crown categories — batting average (.299), home runs (19) and RBI (56). Relievers Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller earned their All-Star berths as well.

Considering the Yankees only played .500 ball (44-44) to the break it is a credit to all three that they earned the trip here to Petco Park, one of baseball’s most striking facilities in the city with the most pleasant weather in the United States.

The AL earned home field advantage in the World Series with a 4-2 victory. Betances and Miller were among the 10 pitchers AL manager Ned Yost of the Royals employed in the game. Betances gave up a hit and threw a wild pitch in the seventh inning but did not allow a run and had two strikeouts. Miller had a rougher time of it in the eighth. The lefthander loaded the bases on two hits and a walk with two out and needed relief from the Astros’ Will Harris, who ended the threat with a called strikeout of the Cardinals’ Alemys Diaz.

The All-Star break is baseball’s vacation, even for those who travel to the game. Beltran’s nagging hamstring limited him to no more than one at-bat. It was doubtful that he would play the field, but he actually manned right field for the sixth and seventh innings as a replacement for the Red Sox’ Mookie Betts. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has gotten Beltran at-bats as the designated hitter, which has relegated a slumping A-Rod to the bench. In his only plate appearance, Beltran flied out to center field.

Once vacation is over, however, the Yankees have to get back to the business of trying to work their way into contention for the AL East title or at least one of the wild card entries. They are 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Orioles in the division and 5 1/2 back of the second wild card berth. They have quite a few clubs to climb over to accomplish their annual goal of reaching postseason play.

“It has to happen,” Beltran said. “It has got to be this; it has got to be in the second half. We have to find a way to play better, man. I know I have said this all through the first half, but I do believe we have what it takes to compete and be contenders in our division. But we have to show it. We haven’t shown it yet.”

Beltran also recognizes that the upcoming homestand after the break that includes visits by two division leaders (Baltimore and NL West leading San Francisco) after a series with rival Boston could be a do-or-die stretch of games. Already there is debate about whether the Yankees will be buyers or sellers at the non-waiver trade deadline of Aug. 1. Beltran and the Yankees’ No Runs DMC trio of relievers that also includes Aroldis Chapman could be helpful to any contender should general manager Brian Cashman decide to move any of them for needed prospects.

“I’m prepared for anything,” Beltran said. “I love where I am, but at the end of the day, we understand that we don’t know what route the team is going to take. I do believe that home stand will be an important one.”

Injuries beginning to mount for Yankees

When losing a game to the Mets is not the worst thing that happened to the Yankees you know they are in trouble. The Mets extended their winning streak over the Yankees to five games with a 9-7 victory Monday night in one of those see-saw games that often favors the club that has last licks.

It did not work that way for the Yankees, although they did put the potential tying runs on base against Kyle Farnsworth before Brian McCann hit a smoking grounder to first base that resulted in a game-ending, 3-5-3 double play. That’s right 5. Third baseman David Wright was covering second base with an over-shift alignment on McCann.

The Yankees blew leads of 4-1 and 7-4 to the Mets, who stroked four home runs, including a two-run shot by Curtis Granderson in his return to Yankee Stadium. Travis d’Arnaud, Eric Young Jr. and Chris Young also went deep for the Mets to trump an early grand slam by Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner. Chris Young followed a broken-bat RBI single by Lucas Duda with a two-run blast to left in the eighth inning that turned the game in the Mets’ direction.

Now the really bad stuff:

Carlos Beltran had to be pinch-hit for in the seventh inning of a one-run game because he hyper-extended his right elbow between innings in the batting cage where most designated hitters spend their time preparing for future at-bats.

Ichiro Suzuki did not take batting practice perhaps for the first time in his career and was unavailable for pinch hitting or running duties due to a jammed right knee and a sore back the result of his attempt fora diving catch Sunday at Milwaukee.

Relief pitcher Shawn Kelley also has back issues and was unavailable out of the bullpen on a night when the relief corps needed major aid.

Mark Teixeira did not start at first base because of weary legs and a tender groin. He was able to pinch hit in the ninth but when he drove a liner into the corner had to settle for a single. Manager Joe Girardi said Tex likely would have made second base had his legs been normal, and that would have taken the double play out of the equation that inning.

CC Sabathia, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of fluid buildup in his right knee, was headed south to visit Dr. James Andrews, the noted orthopedist, for a second opinion on his condition.

Had enough? Girardi has and is trying hard not to think 2014 will be a continuation of 2013 when a franchise-record 56 players were needed to navigate through a injury-riddled season. Already this year the Yankees have used 36 players, including 19 pitchers (20 if you count infielder Dean Anna, who tossed an inning).

Kelly Johnson and Yangervis Solarte, who began the season in a platoon at third base, triggered a three-run rally in the sixth inning that unlocked a 4-4 score. Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda coughed up a 4-1 lead on a solo home run in the fifth by d’Arnaud and a two-run shot in the sixth by Granderson, who just needed a shot of the Stadium to get back on track.

It was Granderson’s 65th career home run in 910 at-bats at the Stadium, an average of one every 14 at-bats. Grandy hit 63 homers at the Stadium in his four seasons with the Yankees, which accounted for 54.8 percent of his dinger output during his time here. I would have thought that percentage would be higher, but Curtis showed he could hit the long ball elsewhere than the Bronx, which should be encouraging to him.

After a messy second inning in which he gave up the salami to Gardner, Bartolo Colon settled down and pitched three scoreless innings as his team clawed back into the game. It all came apart for Colon in the sixth.

Solarte followed a one-out double by Alfonso Soriano with a single to break the tie. Johnson, playing first base for Teixeira, was credited with a triple on a drive to left-center hat was poorly played by Eric Young Jr. to score Solarte.

Johnson displayed questionable judgment in trying to score on Brian Roberts’ grounder to the left side against a drawn-in infield and was thrown out in a rundown. Gardner sent Colon packing with a dart of a single to right field that put Roberts on third. On a steal attempt by Gardner, d’Arnaud threw the ball into center field which allowed Roberts to score.

Kuroda came out of the game at the start of the seventh. Alfredo Aceves, a candidate to start Thursday night, came in on his throw day but was not sharp. He walked d’Arnaud to start the inning and one out later gave up Eric Young Jr.’s first home run of the season that got the Mets back to a run.

Daniel Murphy singled after Young’s homer. Aceves got a big out by catching Wright looking at a slider for a called third strike. With Granderson at bat and a 2-2 count, Murphy tried to steal second and was thrown out by McCann. Granderson is strikeout prone, but it did not make much sense to me to run Murphy there. It was a nice break for the Yankees on a night when not much else went their way.

Late rallies fall short

When discussing using Lyle Overbay in right field now that Mark Teixeira is back at first base on a regular basis, Yankees manager Joe Girardi noted that it is not a great risk for a career first baseman to play out there because that patch at Yankee Stadium is not very large. That is not the case in a place like Oakland’s Coliseum.

Overbay did a serviceable job playing right field at the Stadium for three games last week against the Indians. No incidents and it helped to keep his bat in the lineup. Overbay was 3-for-9 in the series.

Tuesday night was another story. The Coliseum’s outfield is among the largest in the majors and foul ground is the most, which adds to the real estate outfielders need to cover. Overbay’s lack of experience came into play in the second inning when the Athletics got a run on a no-man’s-land double by Derek Morris, the Oakland catcher. With two out and a runner on first base, Morris hit a slicing flare near the right field line. Overbay looked to second baseman Robinson Cano as he ran in for the ball rather than taking charge. That slight hesitation was enough for the ball to drop just inside the line. Running on the crack of the bat, Josh Reddick scored all the way from first to push Oakland’s lead to 2-0.

The situation might have proved critical if the game had remained close, which was not the case until the last inning. In the fourth, Morris broke it open with a three-run home run off CC Sabathia, who had a rough night in his home area. Sabathia, who grew up in nearby Vallejo, Calif., also allowed a run with a wild pitch in the sixth inning when he got a late break off the mound and could not recover in time to cover the plate.

The A’s got to Sabathia immediately as Coco Crisp led off the first inning with his eighth homer of the season and third leading off a game this year and 15th of his career. It was not a good omen for Sabathia (6-5, 4.07 ERA), who was stung for six runs and eight hits in six innings as his career mark against the A’s went to 8-10 with a 4.66 ERA in 172 innings, including 4-6 with a 5.30 ERA at the Coliseum in 86 2/3 innings.

The 6-4 Oakland victory marked the first time this year that the Yankees lost a game started by a former Cy Young Award winner. They had been 6-0 in such games before suffering the defeat to Bartolo Colon, the 2005 winner when he was with the Angels.

The Yankees threatened Colon in the top of the first by loading the bases with one out on a single by Brett Gardner, last week’s American League Player of the Week, and two walks. Colon entered the game with only six walks in 77 1/3 innings, so the sudden lack of control was surprising. The Yankees failed to capitalize as Kevin Youkilis and Overbay both popped out.

Colon allowed the Yankees only two more hits and two more walks through the sixth. He had to sweat out the last two innings as the Yankees scored two runs each in the eighth and ninth before being able to celebrate his sixth straight victory that improve his record to 8-2. Colon has given up only three runs in 36 innings (0.75 ERA) over that stretch to lower his season ERA from 4.56 to 2.92.

The Yankees didn’t do much offensively until the last two innings. There were some good signs in the loss. Teixeira knocked in three runs with a pair of singles. Cano, who has been in a slump on the trip, reached base four times with a double, a single and two walks. Vernon Wells, also struggling, came off the bench and got a big RBI single. Gardner had two more hits, and so did Chris Stewart. Travis Hafner walked twice and smashed the ball hard twice but had nothing to show for it. Left fielder Seth Smith gloved Hafner’s drive in the ninth at the wall for the final out.

Finally a ‘W’ for much more consistent Hughes

Through five innings Saturday, Phil Hughes had thrown 86 pitches. I thought here’s another situation in which the righthander cannot moderate his pitch count and that Yankees manager Joe Girardi would have to get his bullpen in gear early.

But lo and behold, Hughes got more efficient with his pitches and came up with three straight 1-2-3 innings to be in good position to get his first winning decision of the season. Phil certainly earned it with eight shutout innings in which he allowed four hits and two walks with a season-high nine strikeouts.

Things got a bit hairy in the ninth when Shawn Kelley gave up a leadoff single, and Girardi did not hesitate to call on Mariano Rivera in a non-save situation. Mo gave up a walk and a hit with a couple of runs scoring, but the 4-2 Yankees final gave Hughes that long-awaited first victory of the season.

“I knew my pitch count was pretty high the first five innings,” Hughes said. “It all starts with the fastball. I got more aggressive with it on both sides of the plate and then I could mix in off-speed stuff.”

Hughes’ 117-pitch effort included an unusually high number of strikes – 82 – and marked his fourth consecutive outing of six or more innings in which he allowed two or fewer runs. He has held opponents to a .223 batting average in that stretch. Over those starts, Hughes had brought his ERA down from 10.29 to 3.60. “I feel like I’m clicking now,” he said.

For the second straight outing at Yankee Stadium, Hughes kept the ball in the yard, something he had not done before his previous start since last August. The long ball will always be a nemesis for Hughes, a fly-ball pitcher (10 of his 24 outs Saturday were in the air), but it is worth noting that all five homers he has allowed this year have come with the bases empty.

Ichiro Suzuki saved Hughes from yielding a home run to the first batter of the game, catcher John Jaso, with a fence-climbing catch in right field. A couple of other drives reached the warning track but stayed out of the stands.

“The consistency of his pitches every inning” was Girardi’s explanation for the turnaround in Hughes since his first two poor starts to open the season. “He mixed in all his stuff the second and third time through the order.”

Hughes’ offensive support came mainly from the bottom of the order – home runs from 9-hole hitter Chris Stewart in the third and 7-hole hitter Lyle Overbay in the fifth off Athletics starter Bartolo Colon and a triple by 8-hole hitter Eduardo Nunez, who scored on a two-out single by Brett Gardner in the seventh. The other run came from cleanup hitter Travis Hafner with a single in the sixth that scored Robinson Cano, who had doubled to lead off the inning against Colon.

That double was career No. 344 for Cano, who broke a tie with Hall of Famers Bill Dickey and Mickey Mantle to take over eighth place on the franchise’s all-time list.

Colon, who was 8-10 for the Yankees in 2011, lost for the first time in four decisions this year despite another good outing (three runs, six hits, no walks, three strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings). A control freak of a power pitcher, Colon has tossed 37 1/3 innings in 2013 and walked one batter.

The Yankees are 28-9 in games immediately following shutout losses since the start of the 2008 season (all under Girardi) with victories in both cases this year and 11 of the past 13. . .Hughes, with a 1.93 ERA and 30 strikeouts over his past four starts covering 28 innings, became the first right-handed starter for the Yankees to pitch at least eight shutout innings and strike out at least nine batters in a game since Mike Mussina Sept. 14, 2004 at Kansas City and the first to do so at the Stadium since Roger Clemens June 18, 2003 against the Rays. . .Hafner has at least one RBI in nine of the Yankees’ 10 series this season. . .Stewart entered 2013 with four homers in 351 career at-bats. He has two in 40 at-bats this season. . .Rivera’s 1,064th career appearance tied him with Dan Plesac for sixth place on the all-time games list. . .The Yankees are 17-2 when holding opponents to four or fewer runs and 16-3 when scoring four or more runs.

Yanks seek to start new road streak

Friday night’s loss to the Mets at Citi Field ended the Yankees’ road winning streak at seven, their longest such stretch since they won eight in a row June 24-July 9, 2009. The five runs they allowed in the first inning was the most they have allowed in the opening inning of a game since July 14 last year when the Blue Jays scored eight runs (three earned) off Bartolo Colon in a 16-7 Toronto victory.

The Elias Sports Bureau reported that the Yankees became the last team in the majors to allow more than four runs in any inning this season. It was only the third time in Andy Pettitte’s 487 regular-season starts that he allowed at least five runs in the first inning. The other times were Sept. 4, 2001 at Toronto – five runs – and Aug. 21, 1995 at Oakland – six runs.

Clay Rapada’s impressive stretch of 21 consecutive batters held hitless was ended in the eighth inning when Mets second baseman Justin Turner doubled. Rapada has set down each of the past 16 left-handed batters he has faced and has limited lefty swingers to a .137 batting average in 51 at-bats for the season with just two extra-base hits, one double and one home run.

The Yankees’ 27 errors this season are the fewest in the majors. They also lead the majors with a .989 fielding percentage. In Joe Girardi’s term as manager since 2008, the Yankees have combined for a .986 fielding percentage, the best in the American League and second in the majors only to the Phillies’ .989.

Ivan Nova entered Saturday night’s start with a 12-game winning streak on the road. The club record for consecutive road victories is 15. It was set over the 1936 and ’37 seasons by Monte Pearson and tied over the 1948 and ’49 seasons by Allie Reynolds. Russ Ford of the old New York Highlanders won 13 straight road decisions over the 1910 and ’11 seasons.

Rays fans salute Soriano for different reason

Rays fans cheered Rafael Soriano throughout the 2010 season as he registered a league-leading 45 saves for Tampa Bay that earned him a multi-year, mega-bucks contract as a free agent with the Yankees. He was the object of a joyful Tropicana Field audience Tuesday night when Soriano gave up a three-run home run to Matt Joyce in the seventh inning that sent the Rays toward a 5-3 victory that kept alive their hopes for a wild-card playoff berth.

Three was the key number for the Rays in this one. Joyce’s three-run bomb followed by one inning a triple play pulled off by the Tampa Bay infield that snuffed out a Yankees rally that threatened to break the game open. The Yanks had taken a 3-2 lead on a walk and doubles by Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher.

An intentional walk to Jorge Posada loaded the bases for Russell Martin, who had homered off Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson earlier in the game. Martin hit a hard grounder to third base where Evan Longoria gloved it, stepped on the bag and instead of throwing home for the lead runner shot the ball to second base where Ben Zobrist relayed to first for the triple killing. That was a tremendously heady play by Longoria, who realized the guy who hit the ball was a catcher and gave the triple play attempt a try.

The play seemed to revive the Rays, who were able to score only two runs in 5 1/3 innings off a so-so Bartolo Colon, who remained winless in 10 starts since July 30 (0-4, 5.37 ERA). After the game, Yankees manager Joe Girardi spoke of Colon’s contributions this season in the past tense, which seemed to indicate that the veteran righthander might not be on the staff for the first round of the playoffs.

The Yankees are still trying to decide what to do to prepare for the Division Series because they do not yet know who they will play, either Detroit or Texas. As for the wild card, that will go down to the last game. The Red Sox hung on for an 8-7 victory in Baltimore. David Price will start for Tampa Bay Wednesday night against a collection of Yankees pitchers who will not be on the postseason roster.

Girardi warned the Red Sox this was going to happen. With the American League East and home-field advantage for the first two rounds in place, the Yankees don’t owe Boston anything.

Yanks can’t get to 100 in W column

The Yankees’ 5-2 loss at Tropicana Field Monday night means that they cannot win 100 games this year. They needed to sweep the Rays in the season-ending, three-game set to get into three figures in victories for the 20th time in franchise history.

It is no big deal because the Yankees have done everything they wanted to do, which was to win the American League East and finish with the best record in the league that will give them home field advantage in the Division Series and League Championship Series. Reaching 100 in the W column would have been a nice topping on the season but one that was not necessary.

Not that Yankees fans ever like to see them lose, but falling to Tampa Bay combined with the Red Sox’ loss at Baltimore means the Rays have pulled into a tie for the wild card berth with Boston, which has squandered a nine-game lead in those standings since Sept. 4. If the teams should remain tied after Tuesday night’s game, there could be pressure on Yankees manager Joe Girardi to field a representative lineup for the last game of the season if the wild-card slot is still on the line.

Girardi made it clear before the Yankees left for St. Petersburg, Fla., that he was starting Bartolo Colon Tuesday night and that Wednesday night’s finale would be handled by the bullpen. He has no reason to do anything differently. Girardi’s first responsibility is to the Yankees. He used a lot of regulars last weekend against the Red Sox and last week and Monday night against the Rays. He is under no obligation for the integrity of the game to do something that might hurt his team’s chances in postseason play, which begins Friday night.

The Red Sox and the Rays had a 162-game schedule and 18 games apiece against the Yankees to stay close to them. Boston in particular has no gripe. The Red Sox got into this fix by themselves and should not expect any kind of helping hand from the Yankees now.

Yanks in middle of Red Sox-Rays fight

While they have clarified their postseason situation by clinching the American League East title and guaranteeing home field advance in the Division Series and League Championship Series, the Yankees nonetheless find themselves in the middle of a race for a playoff berth.

The wild card slot is still up for grabs among two of their AL East competitors, the Red Sox and Rays, and the long-shot Angels of the AL West. The Yankees continued Boston’s September slide with a 6-2 victory in the afternoon portion of the split-bill doubleheader Sunday at Yankee Stadium. The Rays won at home against the Blue Jays to move to a half-game behind the Red Sox in the wild-card standings.

Had the Red Sox lost the night game Sunday, the nine-game lead they held over Tampa Bay Sept. 4 would have completely evaporated. The Red Sox may have saved their season by overcoming a 3-0, first-inning deficit and winning, 7-4, in 14 innings on Jacoby Ellsbury’s third home run of the day to retain their one-game lead for the wild card.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Rays because they have to play the Yankees in their final three games at Tropicana Field while the Red Sox finish up at Baltimore. So the Yankees are still involved in this mix. In the meantime, they are getting a lot of positive vibes about their pitching as they prepare for the postseason. After Freddy Garcia pitched six shutout innings Saturday, A.J. Burnett turned in his best performance in more than two months in the Sunday matinee.

The Stadium crowd of 49,541 bestowed a standing ovation on Burnett as he left the mound with two out in the eighth inning after limiting the Red Sox to two runs and five hits – two of them home runs by Ellsbury, who had three of the hits off the righthander. Burnett walked two batters and struck out six and for a nice change of pace he did not hit a batter, throw a wild pitch or allow a stolen base.

This was an A.J. Burnett start out of 2009, his first season in pinstripes when he was 13-9. His curve was a huge weapon Sunday as Burnett got his record back to .500 at 11-11. It was only his third victory in 15 starts since June 29 but his second straight winning decision. The timing could not be better.

CC Sabathia, who threw a simulated game Sunday and declared himself ready to go, will start Game 1 of the ALDS Friday night at the Stadium against an opponent yet unknown. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has yet to reveal his postseason rotation but Sabathia in Game 1 is a given.

It is also expected that Ivan Nova, Sunday night’s starter who pitched 6 1/3 innings and got a no-decision, will get the ball in Game 2, although that is not a certainty. Burnett and Garcia are in a competition for the other postseason starting assignments with Bartolo Colon and Phil Hughes, who will make their cases in the Tampa Bay series.

The Yankees solved Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball Sunday behind veterans Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada. Brett Gardner and Jeter, who bunted for hits in the first inning, each scored without a hit. Gardner came home on an error by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jeter on a wild pitch to put the Red Sox in an early, 2-0 hole.

Posada, batting cleanup for the first time since 2009, hit his fourth career homer off Wakefield, a two-run shot in the third. The crowd ate it up, and Jorgie responded with a curtain call. What a far cry from that May 14 Yanks-Red Sox game when Posada objected to batting ninth and asked out of the lineup. Talk about ancient history.

Jeter added two more hits, a single and a double, that brought his batting average to .300 for the first time since after the second game of the season when he was at .333 on 2-for-6. Jeter was batting .260 when he came off the disabled list July 4. He has hit .338 since then. As late as Aug. 10, the Captain was hitting .271. Over his past 37 games, he has batted .372. DJ got to .299 twice late last month but dipped as low as .292 Sept. 17. Jeter’s current hot streak covers six games in which he has 11-for-22 (.500) with 2 doubles, 1 home run and 4 RBI.

The Yankees’ clinching gives Girardi a chance to rest regulars and give youngsters a chance to get some major-league experience. Perhaps the most pleasant aspect in that regard Sunday was the defensive work at first base by Brandon Laird, who made several sparking plays.

In the nightcap, the Yankees got outstanding relief work until Scott Proctor came on in the 14th and gave up a hit and a walk before Ellsbury connected. Unfortunately, the Red Sox bullpen had an even better night as they held the Yankees to one hit over eight shutout innings.

It was another extra-inning loss for the Yankees, who are 4-11 when going past the ninth, the worst record in the league and the third worst in franchise history, trailing only the 1-9 record of 1933 and the 3-9 of 1949.

The Yankees finished the home season with a 52-29 mark, tied with the Rangers for the best in the AL. The regular-season attendance of 3,653,380 and average of 45,107 per game led the AL, which marked the ninth consecutive season that the Yankees have drawn the most fans at home. This year’s 20 sellouts were the most in the three-year history of the current Stadium.

Splendid setting for Mo’s 601st save

What a terrific game to be the one in which Mariano Rivera tied the career record for saves. After four innings, it would have been hard to predict that Mo would even get into the game because the Yankees appeared buried as they trailed, 6-1, behind a shaky Bartolo Colon, who was scorched for six earned runs and seven hits.

Considering the state of the Yankees’ offense on this trip, a comeback seemed unlikely. The Yankees entered Saturday’s game at Toronto batting .200 in 265 at-bats and averaging 3.5 runs per game on the trip in which they had lost five of eight games. But after the roaring comeback sparked by the power of Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson and supplemented by the hitless work of five relievers, the Yankees have a chance to play .500 on a ragged trip that ends Sunday.

Rivera’s wife Clara and sons Mariano Jr., Jafet and Jaziel were in the crowd of 39,288 at Rogers Centre cheering him on as he bore down for his 42nd save of the season with a 1-2-3 ninth that brought his career total to 601, tying him with Trevor Hoffman for the all-time record. One more save, perhaps Sunday or even better when the team returns to Yankee Stadium Monday, and Mo will have no rivals as baseball’s saves master.

Rivera is already acknowledged as the game’s greatest closer. That saves total does not include the 42 he has recorded in postseason play, which is at the core of his legacy. Watching him after the last out as he walked off the mound and toward the center fielder, Granderson, who put away the 27th out and hit a home run that gave the Yankees the lead, gave one a glance at a professional in action, the game’s classiest act.

Later in talking to reporters, Rivera spoke more about the comeback his teammates staged that put him in position to get the save. To Mo, the most important thing about notching a save is that it means his team has won the game.

I had pointed out Friday night that the Yankees, who have had four walk-off losses on the trip, needed to reverse the trend of one-run losses. Saturday’s 7-6 victory was a start. They are now 21-23 in one-run games, including 9-14 on the road. In addition, they kept up their dominance in day games with a 40-11 mark.

Rodriguez was back in the lineup after eight games on the shelf nursing a sprained left thumb. He was not in his familiar cleanup spot but in the 5-hole, the first time he has batted there in five years. Yankees manager Joe Girardi kept Robinson Cano in the cleanup spot where he has done superbly in A-Rod’s absence, although the All-Star second baseman had a strange day Saturday.

The Yankees needed a good dose of Alex, and he did not disappoint. Batting with a split-hand grip with tape on the bat between his hands to protect the thumb, Rodriguez lashed a single his first time up. He hit the ball hard again in his second at-bat but grounded out. Then in the fifth, he bashed the first pitch from Henderson Alvarez over the left field wall for his 16th home run, a three-run shot that got the Yankees to 6-5.

The Yankees were now in a game in which they had botched earlier chances to score. Cano made his second base-running blunder of the trip by passing Mark Teixeira at third base that resulted in a rally-killing double play after a sensational catch on the center field track by Colby Rasmus of a drive by Nick Swisher. The Yankees settled for one run that inning on a Cano sacrifice fly but failed to take advantage of an error by left fielder Adam Loewen that seemed to have opened the door for them. The next inning, Brett Gardner tripled with one down but was stranded.

Granderson, who had a perfect day (3-for-3, 2 walks, 2 RBI, 3 runs) jump-started the Yanks in the sixth with a leadoff double. Curtis has had a rough September, batting .189 this month and .133 on the trip entering play Saturday watching his average drop to .264 and his Most Valuable Player aspirations sink as well.

Perhaps Granderson started turning things around with this game. He scored on a throwing error by Rasmus off a single by Teixeira. Alvarez was coming apart at this point. He hit Cano with a pitch before serving up a first-pitch fastball to A-Rod, who scalded it for his 629th career homer, one behind fifth-place Ken Griffey Jr. on the all-time list.

Carlos Villanueva took over in the seventh, and the Yankees didn’t waste any time jumping on him. Derek Jeter beat out an infield hit on one of four ground balls he hit to shortstop in the game and scored on Granderson’s 40th home run, an impressive blow that cleared the center field wall.

While the Yankees were making all this noise, their bullpen kept the Blue Jays quiet. Colon, who remained winless in eight starts since July 30 and is 0-3 with a 4.98 during that stretch, was gone after four innings. Scott Proctor, Adam Laffey, Hector Noesi, Rafael Soriano and Rivera pitched one inning of hitless relief apiece. Soriano struck out the side in the eighth for the second straight game (he did the same Friday night in the seventh inning).

For Rivera, this was a save to be savored.