Burnett comes through, sets up winner-take-all showdown

Chris Ruddick,
MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Okay, raise your hand if you thought A.J. Burnett was going to wiggle his way out of that first-inning jam on Tuesday night at Comerica Park.

Unless you are the most ardent supporter of the Yankees, or just brain dead, you had to be thinking "here we go again" when Burnett walked the bases loaded in the opening inning. But with the bullpen already stirring, Curtis Granderson saved Burnett's bacon and maybe the Yankees' season with a diving catch in center field on a laser off the bat of Don Kelly.

"Once that first inning was over and Curtis saved me," Burnett said, "I was able to take a breath."

Now Granderson made it a lot harder on himself than he had to, as he misjudged the ball off the bat, but it was a terrific recovery and one that if it had gotten over his head, could have gone for an inside-the-park grand slam.

"Who knows what could have happened at that point," Granderson said. "If we get behind in an elimination game here in Detroit, the fans stay in it, the fans get more into it. Now, everything is staying neutral and we were able to go ahead and keep it right where we wanted to."

A.J. Burnett
"Once that first inning was over and Curtis saved me," A.J. Burnett said, "I was able to take a breath."
Instead, it remained scoreless and from there the player Yankees fans have come to loathe settled down and turned in a pretty solid outing, allowing just a run and four hits over 5 2/3 innings, as the Yankees rolled to a 10-1 win, setting up a decisive fifth game in the Bronx on Thursday.

"He pitched huge when we needed him the most," Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. "A.J. deserves all the credit. He shut down a tough team over there. He's the reason we get an opportunity to play on Thursday."

As good as Granderson's first-inning grab was, his sixth-inning catch is the one that people will be seeing on highlight reels for years to come. With the Yankees leading 4-1, Kelly on second and Burnett lifted in favor of Rafael Soriano, Jhonny Peralta lifted what looked like a sure extra-base hit to the left-center field gap, but Granderson tracked it down and brought it in with full-body extension in the air to end the threat and the inning, and perhaps the series.

"He may have saved the season, not once, but twice," Alex Rodriguez said.

The real story though was Burnett, who against all odds gave the Yankees exactly what they needed. Before we get too crazy, this wasn't exactly Roy Halladay's no-hitter versus the Reds from last year, but it was enough considering there wasn't a person on the planet who expected him to see the sixth inning.

Burnett still allowed eight baserunners, didn't register a quality start and needed 81 pitches to get 17 outs. But, it was more than enough for a guy who last year turned in the worst statistical season ever by a Yankees starter and this year pitched to a 5.15 ERA.

"It feels good," Burnett said about proving all the doubters wrong. "But I'm the type of person that feels like I could've done more. I feel like I should've done more, but it was good enough to get a win for our team. That means more than anything."

As important as Granderson's plays were, the biggest thing to come out of the win may have come in the eighth inning when the Yankees turned a three-run lead into a nine-run rout. Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, who entered the frame having gone a combined 1-for-26 in the series, had three hits in the uprising. Perhaps those two are on the verge of going off.

That would certainly make things easier for rookie right-hander Ivan Nova, who will take the ball for the Yankees in Thursday's Game 5 following a terrific outing to complete the Game 1 suspension.

Nova took over for CC Sabathia on Saturday and turned in 6 1/3 solid innings, as he allowed two runs and four hits. The young hurler still hasn't lost since June 3 and hasn't tasted defeat at home since falling to Kansas City way back on May 12.

He'll be opposed by his Game 1 counterpart Doug Fister, who pitched better than his line indicated last Saturday. Fister absorbed the loss and was charged with six runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings of work.

Fister, though, could have some things working in his favor on Thursday, as the home team in Division Series Game 5's have won just six of the previous 14 matchups in this round. Also going for him is the fact that the team that has won Game 3, which the Tigers did on Monday, has gone on to win the Division Series 31 of the last 37 times.

But then again, since 1995, five of the nine pitcher rematches went to the team who won the first showdown. Then again, it's not technically a rematch since both appeared in relief.

"We have an opportunity," Girardi said. "We have an opportunity to win a series. We fought all year long to have home-field advantage. Hopefully, we can get it done on Thursday."

And if they do, it will be because of Burnett's start on Tuesday. You can't predict baseball.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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