Results tagged ‘ Kerry Wood ’

Pitch count halts Pineda’s record chase

Michael Pineda had a chance to make history Sunday, but the pitch count police did him in. Rather than rant on like an old man about how pitchers are being babied to death these days, let me just say quickly what they can do with pitch counts. Shove ’em.

Here was Pineda using high fastballs, swirling sliders and freeze-frame changeups to embarrass one Baltimore hitter after another before a Mothers Day crowd of 39,059 at Yankee Stadium. Five of his first six outs were by strikeout. Over the fifth and sixth innings, he punched out six hitters in a row. The righthander added two more Ks in the seventh to bring his total to 16.

The fans, naturally, were loving it with their typical hand-clapping reaction to every two-strike pitch, a tradition that began at the Stadium June 17, 1978 when Ron Guidry set the franchise record with 18 strikeouts against the Angels. Pineda had a very good chance at breaking that mark or at least tying it. His pitch count, however, stood at 111. That was enough for manager Joe Girardi, who by the way was the catcher in the only other two games in which a Yankees pitcher struck out 16 batters — David Wells and David Cone, both in 1997.

So out came Pineda, depriving the crowd of an opportunity for an historic moment. Quite a few headed for the exits what with the Yankees comfortably in front at that point by five runs. The drama had exited the game with Pineda.

Girardi said he was unaware wha the club record was and that even if he did it would not have mattered. Considering how early in the season it is and that Pineda has a history of arm miseries in his brief career the call to the bullpen was the choice to make.

“Maybe if he was coming off a serious injury, it might have been a different story,” Girardi said.

A manager cannot worry about records. I get that. The idea is to win the game, which the Yankees did, 6-2, to take the series and boost their lead in the American League East to three games over second-place Tampa Bay where they will open a four-game set Monday night.

Personally, I could not help but be disappointed. When a pitcher is on the way Pineda was Sunday, one cannot help but want to see more, particularly if he is in range of a major achievement. After all, he was within four strikeouts of the all-time mark for a nine-inning game by Roger Clemens (twice) and Kerry Wood.

I was reminded of a game I watched on television one night early in the 2007 season. Jake Peavy, then with the Padres, had 16 Ks through seven innings against the Diamondbacks in Phoenix. I was all prepared to watch him go for the record when Bud Black, then in his first year as San Diego’s manager, yanked him. Black, a former pitcher, yet!

Later that year when Peavy was named the National League Cy Young Award, I chatted with him by phone as the representative of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America and asked him about that game.

“I’m with you, man,” Peavy told me. “I argued like crazy to stay in the game, but Skip hit me with that ‘It’s too early in the year’ stuff.”

That game was played April 25. Sunday was May 10. But another big difference is eight years. Major League Baseball is married to the pitch count these days and challenging it only marks you as a dinosaur.

Still, there is no evidence I see that holding pitchers back protects them from arm problems. There are more pitchers on the disabled list and lining up for Tommy John surgery than every before. In his 18-strikeout game, Guidry threw 138 pitches. He went on to win the American League Cy Young Award that year, pitched for 10 more years and nearly won a second Cy in 1985 but was runner-up to the Royals’ Bret Saberhagen.

Pineda was no more aware of the record than was Girardi and made no argument to stay in the game. He must have used the word “happy” two dozen times after the game to describe how he felt. Think of how often he might have said it if he were allowed to take a shot at the Yankees’ record book.

The way Pineda was pitching it is hard to remember that he was actually behind in the score early on. He hung a 2-2 slider to J.J. Hardy, who drove it to left field for his first home run this season. That was in the second inning when Pineda also struck out the side, which he did again in the fifth. By then, the Yankees had moved in front after a four-run fourth inning against Bud Norris.

Carlos Beltran, who is starting to swing the bat better, got the Yankees even with his first home run of the year coming in his 100th at-bat. A walk to Chase Headley and singles by Stephen Drew and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees the lead. Jacoby Ellsbury extended the advantage with a two-run double.

There was no stopping Pineda now. Fortified by more offense later on — a home run by Brian McCann in the fifth and an RBI double by Gregorius in the seventh — Pineda just proceeded to attack Orioles hitters.

“I felt great; everything was working,” Pineda said. “I was happy to do this on Mothers Day because I know my Mom was watching in the Dominican.”

She is not the only person watching. Pineda has become one of the dominant pitchers in the league with a 5-0 record and 2.72 ERA. He has stepped up big-time to help the rotation deal with the loss to injury of Masahiro Tanaka. Pineda was asked if he feels that he is now the Yankees’ ace.

“I’m not focusing on that,” he said. “I just want to keep helping this team win.”

Dellin Betances struck out one batter in the seventh and one in the eighth. It maked only the third time Yankees pitchers had 18 strikeouts in a nine-inning game. In addition to the Guidry game, they did it July 26, 2011 at Seattle.

Pineda tied Cone’s club mark for strikeouts in a game by a righthander, but I sure would have liked to see him try to go for the all-time record.

Yanks send ALCS back to Texas

We have still yet to see in the post-season the CC Sabathia who was a Cy Young Award candidate during the regular season. Despite that, the lefthander is undefeated in three starts and played a major role Wednesday in keeping the American League Championship Series alive for the Yankees.

Just as a late-inning rally by the Yankees in Game 1 took him off the hook in a lackluster outing, Sabathia took the Yankees off a hook in Game 5 that might have ended their season with a serviceable performance that was still good enough to prevent the Rangers from clinching their first invitation to the World Series.

The Yankees’ climb in the ALCS remains uphill, but they at least earned a return trip to Texas, which is all they could hope for after having lost three of the first four games in the series. Who would have thought they would look forward to another date with Cliff Lee? That would come in Game 7, another victory away.

Sabathia was far from dominant. The Rangers reached him for 11 hits, but only one – a home run by catcher Matt Treanor in the sixth – did any tangible damage. The other run off him came on an infield out. In many ways, Texas let Sabathia off the hook. The Rangers stranded eight runners – six in scoring position – in his six innings. A pair of double plays served as part of the rescue party for Sabathia.

“He made key pitches when he had to,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said of Sabathia. “That’s why he’s the pitcher that he is and won all the games that he won this year.”

“I felt more prepared than I was in Game 1,” CC said. “I wanted to keep us in it and make the pitches I needed to.”

The bug guy didn’t hurt himself with walks (none). He had seven strikeouts, including a big one on Mitch Moreland looking at a slider with runners on second and third with his 112th and last pitch. Sabathia has allowed 22 hits in 16 innings and has a 5.63 ERA in his three post-season starts, but his record is 2-0 and the Yankees 3-0 in those games.

That the Yankees won behind Sabathia will only lend credence to the critics of manager Joe Girardi’s decision not to have CC start Game 4 instead of A.J. Burnett. It is too late for all that. One more time: the Yankees needed a fourth starter in the ALCS – who else you got? Whether Burnett should have pitched beyond five innings in Game 4, well, that is another argument and one that does the Yankees no good in rehashing now.

The Game 5 victory had the Yankees looking ahead, not behind. Their bats were noisier with home runs by Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano (four in the ALCS) and Curtis Granderson and doubles by Jorge Posada, Alex Rodriguez and Granderson, pretty good amplification without Mark Teixeira, out for the rest of the series with a strained right hamstring.

Texas lost left fielder Nelson Cruz to a tight hamstring in the fifth, but the injury may not be as serious as that of Teixeira.

The extra-base hits were important for the Yankees because they still were anemic in the clutch. They had two hits in 11 at-bats (.182) with runners in scoring position and are 8-for-51 (.157) in the series in those situations.

The Rangers, who could have closed out the series with a victory, displayed a sloppiness not previously seen in the series. They threw the ball over the lot in the Yankees’ three-run third inning. In the seventh, Elvis Andrus, who had three hits and a stolen base, got himself picked off second base by Kerry Wood, who also picked Ian Kinsler off first base in Game 1.

The Yankees’ play in the field was flawless.

“There was determination on our part,” Girardi said. “We haven’t played our best in this series. But I saw the mood during batting practice, and the guys knew what we had to do.”

So the Yankees are on their way to Texas, and Yankees fans hope there will still be more games at Yankee Stadium this year. That would mean there would be another World Series in the Bronx.

Pen, late lightning ignite Yankees

The Yankees are dipping into their 2009 formula in the 2010 post-season. Late-inning heroics characterized their championship season last year, and the Yankees have come from behind impressively in three of the four playoff games this time around.

It doesn’t get better than what they pulled off Friday night in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. Down 5-0 entering the seventh inning and looking as dead as ace CC Sabathia did in falling behind by so much so early, the Yankees showed the Rangers they simply will not fold so long as they have some at-bats left.

They forced four Texas relievers into submission in a five-run eighth inning that featured five hits and two walks. Seven consecutive batters reached base before the Rangers got an out that inning, and the out was a ball caught at the wall in right field that missed by a matter of feet being a three-run home run for Jorge Posada.

The Rangers still have yet to win a post-season game in their handsome ballpark, and the Yankees still haven’t lost a road game in this year’s tournament. They showed Texas how much they will fight to get another trip to the World Series.

The Rangers were not out of the game by any means after the Yankees took the lead. It was still a one-run game, but the Rangers hurt themselves with a huge rock in the bottom of the eighth. Kerry Wood walked Ian Kinsler on four pitches, an open invitation to Texas to get back in the game. Kinsler got himself picked off, which is inexcusable in that circumstance.

The Yankees failed to get an insurance run in the ninth by stranding Derek Jeter, who led off with a double. Texas became the first team to beat Mariano Rivera twice in the same season this year and posed another threat in the ninth when pinch hitter Mitch Moreland led off with a single and was bunted to second. Mo shut the door, however, as the Yankees finished off a victory that can have major consequences on the rest of the series.

They have already accomplished what they needed to do by winning at least one game at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington and have a chance to go home 2-0 if they can win again Saturday. To lose on a night when Sabathia was not his usual self could be a crushing blow to the Rangers, who could have put a ton of pressure on the Yankees by winning the first two games at home and having Cliff Lee start Game 3 at Yankee Stadium.

Game 1 turned into a bullpen game, and the Yankees got five shutout innings combined from Rivera, Wood, Joba Chamberlain and Dustin Moseley. The winning decision went to Moseley, which was appropriate. Too often, such a job gets unrewarded because of the timing of the scoring. Moseley’s two hitless innings with four strikeouts kept the Yankees in position to turn things around, which they did in their usual patient, persistent manner.

What home field advantage?

There goes the home-field advantage. That was the edge the Twins were supposed to have against the Yankees in the American League Division Series, but now it is essentially gone.

True, if this series goes the limit, Game 5 will be in Minneapolis, but for that to happen the Twins have to figure out a way to win at Yankee Stadium where they have lost 25 of the past 29 games they have played there in the regular season and are 2-4 in ALDS play.

In a best-of-5 series, the home field advantage is tilted more to Game 1 than a possible Game 5. The home team that loses the first game puts itself immediately in a defensive posture, which is what happened to the Twins Wednesday night when the Yankees came back from being down 3-0 and tied at 4.

What the Yankees did by winning, 6-4, is give themselves a chance to prevent a Game 5. Even if they should lose Game 2, they can still win the series without returning to Target Field. At this point, home field advantage is on the Yankees’ side.

There is also the matter of the Yankees’ dominance over the Twins in post-season play. The Twinkies could have made a big step toward exorcising those demons by maintaining the early lead, but now the doubts persist. To get this series back to the Target, they have to win one and maybe two games in the Bronx, a very tough order. Heck, just to get even in this series, they are counting Thursday night on Carl Pavano against Andy Pettitte. How confident would you be?

The bullpen came through big-time in Game 1 for the Yankees with three scoreless innings after the team broke the 4-all score on Mark Teixeira’s two-run home run in the seventh off a crush-me slider from Jesse Crain. Manager Joe Girardi did not hesitate to call on Mariano Rivera for a four-out save after the Twins got two runners on in the eighth off Kerry Wood on a walk and an infield single.

Almost as big a hit as Teixeira’s bomb was Curtis Granderson’s two-run triple in the four-run sixth off a tiring Francisco Liriano. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire will get heat for not taking Liriano out, but I’m with Gardy on this one. He said Liriano is his ace and deserved a chance to get an out there. Granderson was 4-for-24 (.167) off Liriano before that at-bat. Criticizing Gardenhire there is a lousy second guess.

Yankees starter CC Sabathia did not have lights-out stuff but went into his I’ll-work-out-of-it mode and made it through six innings. A bases-loaded walk – the first of his career – allowed the Twins to tie the score in the sixth, but CC still had enough gas left to strike out J.J. Hardy and keep the Twins from regaining the lead there.

Boone Logan and David Robertson preceded Wood. Robertson got a huge strikeout of Jim Thome with two out and two on in the seventh. The Yankees considered putting Royce Ring on the post-season roster to have a second left-handed reliever to go with Logan without disabled Damaso Marte but decided against it. Ring was only so-so in his September audition. The Yankees’ faith in Robertson’s ability to get a big out against a left-handed slugger paid off.

Another Boston marathon

It was a strange outing Saturday at Fenway Park for Andy Pettitte in his playoff tune-up. At this point, it is uncertain whether Andy will start the second or third game of the American League Division Series, but the lefthander appears to be healthy, which had been a concern.

In his third start since returning from a left groin strain, Pettitte was strong enough to throw 88 pitches and strike out eight hitters. That was the good stuff. What was not so good was his failing to get past one batter into the fifth inning and allowing nine hits. Pettitte has given up 19 hits in his past 7 1/3 innings, all against the Red Sox, who these days are not exactly sending out a powerhouse lineup.

Pettitte’s uneven performance set the tone for the game, which was another of those Boston marathons (4 hours, 18 minutes) between these clubs that drew harsh criticism earlier this season from umpire Joe West. There was not a 1-2-3 inning until the ninth when Boston’s Daniel Bard and the Yankees’ Phil Hughes each set down the side in order.

Maybe hitters were just worn out from all the swinging and base running. In regulation, each team had seven innings in which they had runners in scoring position but did not take full advantage. The Yankees left 11 runners on base by getting only two hits in 18 at-bats with runners in scoring position. The Red Sox were 3-for-16 in those situations and stranded 12 runners.

The Yankees helped the Red Sox tie the score by giving Boston two runs without a hit, on wild pitches by Joba Chamberlain in the seventh and Kerry Wood in the eighth. Wood redeemed himself by making a fine play at the plate in handling a short-hop throw from third baseman Ramiro Pena to cut down a second runner trying to score after catcher Jorge Posada had thrown the ball past Wood covering.

The run ended Wood’s scoreless string of 24 1/3 innings over 22 appearances since Aug. 3. The righthander has lowered his ERA from 6.30 to 3.13 in his 24 relief outings with the Yankees. The only negative about Wood’s work with the Yankees has been the tendency to walk batters. He loaded the bases on walks in the eighth and has given up 18 walks in 26 innings.

The base on balls came to the Yankees’ aid in the 10th as they pulled out a 6-5 victory. Jonathan Papelbon walked Brett Gardner to open the 10th. Pena bunted Gardner to second, and second baseman Bill Hall’s error trying to bare-hand a single by Derek Jeter allowed Gardner to score.

Last Sunday, Papelbon and Mariano Rivera blew saves in the same game at Yankee Stadium. Papelbon wasn’t in a save situation in the top of the 10th, but Rivera was in the bottom half. The extra side work Mo did in Toronto paid off as he worked a perfect inning for his 33rd save. Hughes, who pitched well in his last start that Sunday but got a no-decision, picked up his 18th victory for his stainless inning of relief.

Vazquez comes up small

If Javier Vazquez was pitching Wednesday night for a spot on the Yankees’ post-season roster – and he almost certainly was – it was not an ideal audition in Toronto. The Yankees showed they placed value on the game by starting an 80-percent A-list lineup on the night after clinching a playoff berth.

Manager Joe Girardi decided to hold Andy Pettitte back to Friday night at Boston and handed the ball to Vazquez, who began the season in the rotation but eventually pitched himself into the second tier of the bullpen because of too many outings that resembled this last start. The Blue Jays jumped on Vazquez for seven runs and 10 hits, including three home runs, in 4 2/3 innings. Javy walked two batters, threw a wild pitch and had no strikeouts, but at least he did not hit any batters as he did in his previous appearance Sunday night when he plunked three Red Sox in a row.

Girardi still has decisions to make about his post-season staff, but it would appear the locks are starters CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and A.J. Burnett and relievers David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera. Assuming that the Yankees will go with an 11-man staff, that would leave two openings with the candidates being Vazquez, Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre, Dustin Moseley, Ivan Nova and Royce Ring.

Perhaps I am making a big assumption about Burnett, who has been horrid in the second half, but the Yankees will need four starters. There has been some good talk about Nova, but he is a rookie with no post-season experience. As inconsistent as A.J. has been, his track record is superior to the others, including Vazquez, who did not advance his case in the 8-4 loss to the Blue Jays.

There is a good chance the Yankees will take several looks this week at Ring, who spent most of the year at Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but has big-league experience and would give Girardi a second left-handed option out of the pen along with Logan, an option most managers would love. Ring retired the only batter he faced Wednesday night. The most impressive inning from an auditioning pitcher was by Mitre, who struck out the side in the eighth.

Vazquez needed to prove he can be an effective innings soaker but was little more than a punching bag and put the Yankees in a 7-0 hole in the fifth. Like many other games this September, the Yankees had to go uphill throughout the evening.

Toronto lefthander Brett Cecil shut them down for five innings before making the mistake of hitting Robinson Cano with a pitch after Alex Rodriguez had homered leading off the sixth. That’s 14 seasons of at least 30 homers and 100 RBI for A-Rod. The Yankees tagged Cecil for two more runs, but the rally died on a double play. The Jays hung on to improve Cecil’s record against the Yankees this year to 4-0 with a 2.67 ERA, which is Roy Halladay territory.

The loss ruined the Yankees’ opportunity to move ahead of the Rays in the American League East standings. Tampa Bay maintains a one-game edge in the loss column.

Girardi does his homework

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has been careful not to go into great detail about his post-season pitching plans until the team clinches a playoff spot, which is smart. The playoff berth may be a foregone conclusion, but nobody wants to look presumptuous. Notice that Twins manager Ron Gardenhire didn’t announce his post-season rotation until the day after Minnesota clinched the American League Central title.

All that Girardi has conceded thus far is that the Yankees will have a four-man rotation in the playoffs. In 2009, the post-season schedule had more open dates than it will this year, and that allowed Girardi to go through the whole post-season by starting only three pitchers – CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. In 2010, Girardi will need a fourth starter, and the likely addition will be Phil Hughes.

There has been speculation in some media outlets that the Yankees might use Hughes out of the bullpen as they did a year ago and perhaps insert rookie Ivan Nova as the fourth starter (if the Yankees get to the World Series, maybe they would consider Javier Vazquez because of his success against National League competition).

While it is true that the Yankees have kept a close watch on Hughes’ workload, Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman have pointed out that everything goes back to zero with the righthander once post-season play begins. And remember that Hughes pitched out of the bullpen for the majority of the 2009 regular season whereas this year he has been primarily a starter.

The second-half improvement of Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson and the addition of Kerry Wood have the Yankees in good shape with regard to right-handed relief. Hughes will continue to be monitored closely for the rest of the regular season and deserves the chance to start in the playoffs.

Girardi did not dismiss Nova completely, saying, “I’m going to make a decision now. But he has the least amount of experience, and I’ll leave it at that.”

Some Yankees followers have also suggested Nova would be better in the rotation than Burnett, who is winless in his past four starts since Sept. 1 and has lost 12 of his past 16 decisions. Burnett’s 10-14 record and 5.05 ERA belies the fact that he pitches for a team that is tied for the best record in the majors. Despite that, it is hard to imagine that the Yankees would consider dropping Burnett from the rotation entirely.

Girardi still has time to sort all this out. The rest of us just have to be patient.

Hooks cause headaches

Yankees manager Joe Girardi’s quick hook lately is creating havoc for official scorer Bill Shannon. Starting pitchers must go at least five innings to qualify for a winning decision.

Friday, the skipper pulled Ivan Nova after 4 2/3 innings and the Yankees clinging to a 5-3 lead in what would eventually be a 7-3 victory. With Nova out of the game, it was up to Shannon to select a winning pitcher at game’s end. He chose Kerry Wood, who pitched 1 2/3 perfect innings, and weathered some criticism about not assigning the victory to Boone Logan, who got the last out of the fifth inning by striking out Lyle Overbay with the potential tying runs on base.

Ironically, Overbay took Shannon off the hook in a way Saturday. Girardi again made the move to the bullpen Saturday with two runners on, two outs, Overbay at the plate and the score 5-3 Yankees by replacing Javier Vazquez with Dustin Moseley. Two pitches later, Overbay doubled into the right field corner to drive in both runners and tie the score at 5.

That essentially lessened the load for the official scorer. Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston also pulled his starter early. Marc Rzepczynski did not come out for the fifth. The only question for Shannon was whether the pitcher who was on the mound when the winning run scored would be denied a victory if his outing was “brief and ineffective,” but it would remove the option of depriving a worthy candidate such as Logan was Friday.

Welcomed rest for captain

Derek Jeter got the day off Friday – a day off from the field and a day off from intense scrutiny. The captain has come under the media microscope in the second half of the season for an extended slump that has brought on all sorts of speculation about whether he is hiding an injury, fatigued or feeling the ravages of the long season at the age of 36.

I am inclined to think it is a combination of the last two items. The 162-game schedule is a grind, and it gets more difficult for a player as the years mount. The Yankees are amid a stretch of 32 games in 33 days. I don’t care what you do for a living, but get only one day off for a month and you’re going to be dragging. Playing a demanding role like shortstop and in eight different cities over such a stretch will surely take its toll.

Over the past two weeks, Jeter has four hits in 39 at-bats (.103), to drop his season average from .278 to .266. He is still among the leaders in runs scored, tied for second with 95, but Jeter’s name is absent from the other major lists, notably hits. He is usually good for 200 a year, but at 148 with 27 games remaining it is doubtful he can do that again. Even with two hits per game the rest of the way, Jeter would still fall short.

More disturbing numbers for Jeter are his .241 average against right-handed pitching (compared to .307 for his career), his .230 average on the road (.307 career) and his .250 average with runners in scoring position (.304 career).  He has only one hit in 16 at-bats with the bases loaded (.063) this year and a .332 hitter in those spots for his career.

Jeter got off to a strong start, batting .330 in March and April before tailing off to .281 in May. Even worse was June (.243), July (.245) and August (.239). For his career, Jeter has batted above .300 in every month but May (.298).

Why I believe that fatigue is a factor is that over the same 39 at-bat period, Robinson Cano has 11 hits. That’s a .282 average, which isn’t bad but a big drop from what he has done the rest of the season. And Robbie is 27!

Cano is definitely showing signs of fatigue. He has played second base in 133 of the Yankees’ 135 games. While manager Joe Girardi has done a good job to free up some designated hitter time for aging veterans such as Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, Cano has not been able to get into that mix. He has made one start as a DH. With A-Rod on the disabled list, the Yankees have needed Cano to take his place as the cleanup hitter.

What was great to see in the Yankees’ 7-3 victory over the Blue Jays Friday were the contributions at the very top and very bottom of the lineup. At the top, Brett Gardner walked twice, tripled and scored three runs, and Curtis Granderson doubled twice, walked twice, drove in three runs and scored one. At the bottom, Ramiro Pena singled twice and knocked in a run, and Eduardo Nunez singled twice and scored a run.

With rookie starting pitcher Ivan Nova failing to last five innings to qualify for a winning decision, the call had to come from official scorer Bill Shannon to choose the winner from among the subsequent relievers. The nod went to Kerry Wood, who pitched 1 2/3 perfect innings.

I would have been more inclined to go with Boone Logan, who took over for Nova in the fifth and struck out Lyle Overbay with the potential tying runs on base. Logan walked a batter to start the fifth and got an out before he was relieved by David Robertson, who took himself out of the running with three walks and a hit batter in one inning. Wood certainly did well retiring five straight batters, but he worked with a four-run lead the whole time.

“Brief and ineffective” are the guidelines judging relievers under those circumstances. I didn’t think that applied to Logan’s outing.
 

A personality win for Burnett

A.J. Burnett’s start Wednesday night was a start, the Yankees hope, a start back to respectability. He had been absolutely dreadful since his previous victory six starts ago July 28 at Cleveland. Only for the confidence of his manager, Joe Girardi, did Burnett remain in the rotation.

Unlike his five starts in August when Burnett posted a record of 0-4 with a 7.80 ERA, he broke out a fastball with muscle and a breaking ball with bite. A.J. wasn’t perfect, by any means, and quite frankly was lucky to leave the game on the winning end of the score, thanks to shoddy fielding by his opponent, Oakland starter Brett Anderson.

The Athletics have booted balls all over the infield in this series. Anderson’s mishandling of a toss from first baseman Daric Barton in the second inning cost the A’s the third out of the inning and opened the gate for a three-run Yankees rally. Curtis Granderson alertly scored from second base on the play. Anderson walked Nick Swisher to load the bases for Mark Teixeira, who singled in two more runs.

That gave Burnett a 4-0 lead, but he quickly gave two back in the fourth on a home run by Kevin Kouzmanoff. The A’s closed to 4-3 in the fifth, and some rumbling could be heard in the Yankee Stadium crowd, here-we-go-again kind of stuff. Burnett held firm, however, and was treated to appreciative cheers as he walked off the mound at the end of the sixth.

“When he gave up runs, he came back and got some outs,” Girardi said. “I liked his approach. The big thing for me was the quality of his pitches.”

Except for eight strikeouts, Burnett’ pitching line was ordinary (six innings, six hits, three earned runs, two walks, one home run), unless when compared to some of the unsightly numbers he put up last month. It was a step forward, a baby step perhaps, but a step in the right direction nevertheless.

It was also a victory, which always feels nice.

“It was a personality win,” Girardi said, using a phrase he heard from Don Zimmer. “Zim used to say when a guy was struggling he needed a personality hit. You always want to feel like you’re contributing.”

Burnett joined CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes, Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez as pitchers with at least 10 victories, the first time in 11 years that the Yankees have had five pitchers reach double figures in victories in a season. The 1999 team featured Roger Clemens, David Cone, El Duque Hernandez, Hideki Irabu and Pettitte.

Speaking of Pettitte, he had a good bullpen session before Wednesday’s game and barring complications will next pitch a simulated game Saturday. 

Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, Kerry Wood and Mariano Rivera held the 4-3 score for Burnett. The game featured a strange twist near the end when Jorge Posada, batting for Francisco Cervelli, was ejected by plate umpire Dana DeMuth for arguing a called third strike. It was total snappage by Jorgie, who showed up DeMuth by pointing repeatedly at the area around the plate.

It was good for Girardi that Chad Moeller was around as a third catcher. His contract was purchased by the Yankees Wednesday as rosters expanded.

“I had already pinch-hit for [Eduardo] Nunez, so I needed [Ramiro] Pena to play third base,” Girardi said. “He’s our emergency catcher, so if Chad hadn’t been here I would have had to be creative.”