Results tagged ‘ A.J. Burnett ’

4-K inning for Hughes

Whitey Ford never did it. Red Ruffing never did it. Ron Guidry never did it.

A.J. Burnett did do it.

Do what?

Strike out four batters in an inning, that’s what.

That is what Phil Hughes did in the fourth inning Thursday night at Yankee Stadium against the Blue Jays. Obviously, one of the batters reached base, which is how it can happen. The second strikeout victim, Adeiny Hechevarria, reached first base on a passed ball by Russell Martin. Hughes struck out J.P. Arencibia before Hechevarria and Anthony Gose and Brett Lawrie after that for a four-K inning.

Hard to believe that it was only the second time in franchise history the feat was accomplished. Perhaps even harder to believe that the first time was just last year, by Burnett June 24 in the sixth inning of a 4-2 loss to the Rockies at the Stadium. The victims were Chris Iannetta, Carlos Gonzalez, Chris Nelson (who reached base on a wild pitch) and Todd Helton.

Kuroda has found a home at Yankee Stadium

There is always concern whether a pitcher who has had success in the National League can transfer that to the American League where lineups tend to be deeper because of the designated hitter rule. This is particularly true in the AL East where pitchers get very little margin for error. Go ask Javier Vazquez or A.J. Burnett.

The issue came up when the Yankees signed Hiroko Kuroda in the off-season. The Japanese-born righthander was a sturdy if unspectacular starter with the Dodgers who had a 41-46 record and 3.45 ERA over four seasons in Los Angeles. I can remember Lou Piniella saying years ago that teams needed to be careful when acquiring pitchers from the Dodgers because their statistics are aided greatly by the conditions at Dodger Stadium where the dimensions are deep and where the ball does not travel well in the damp southern California air, especially at night.

So along comes Kuroda, who seems to have turned that theory upside-down. Yankee Stadium, with its cozy right-field porch and other hitter-friendly amenities, is hardly a pitchers’ dream, but Kuroda has pitched better in the Bronx than he ever did in Chavez Ravine.

His latest success story at the Stadium was Wednesday’s rain-shortened, 6-0 seven-inning victory. Kuroda gave up a double and three singles, did not walk a batter and struck out five in improving his record to 9-7 with a 3.46 ERA.

In 11 starts at Yankee Stadium this year, Kuroda is 7-3 with a 2.68 ERA and has held opponents to a .219 batting average with seven home runs and 21 RBI in 270 at-bats. Just think; in his years at Dodger Stadium, Kuroda was barely a .500 pitcher with a 20-21 record and 3.43 ERA.

The Yankees wasted no time in providing Kuroda a comfort level as they struck for four runs in the first inning off Toronto lefthander Ricky Romero. On a day when figurines of his likeness were distributed to fans, Mark Teixeira followed a double by Derek Jeter and a run-scoring single by Nick Swisher with a home run. One out later, Robinson Cano doubled and came home on a single by Andruw Jones.

Cano ran his hitting streak to 21 games, the longest for the Yankees since Jeter had a 25-gamer in 2006 from Aug. 20 to Sept. 16. Cano is batting .402 with 14 runs, six doubles, six home runs and 20 RBI during the streak.

The rally guaranteed that the Yankees would extend their team steak of games in which they have scored three or more runs to 42, a franchise record and six shy of the major league mark by the 1994 Indians.

Jayson Nix, who played for the Blue Jays last year, got his second straight start against Toronto and kept up his assault on his former team. Nix, who played shortstop as Jeter was the DH, has 5-for-9 (.556) with two doubles and three runs this year against his old mates.

It was part of a good day for the Yanks’ bench. DeWayne Wise, who spelled Curtis Granderson in center field, had a double, a single and two RBI.

The Yankees finished the 5-1 homestand with their eighth series sweep, one shy of last year’s total. It was their third series sweep at home this year. The others were June 8-10 against the Mets and June 25-27 against the Indians.

The Blue Jays, once considered contenders in the American League East, fell two games under .500 and into last place, 12 ½ games behind the division-leading Yankees. Toronto had 1-for-25 (.040) with runners in scoring position in the series and lost two position players. Outielder Jose Bautista was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a left wrist strain. Third baseman Brett Lawrie bruised his right calf tumbling into the photographer’s well next to the visitors’ dugout. It has been that kind of year for the Blue Jays, who lost three starting pitchers to injury in the same week last month.

The Yankees are off to the West Coast for a four-game series at Oakland and a three-game set at Seattle, and I am off to Cooperstown, N.Y., for the National Baseball Hall of Fame Induction Weekend.

Battery creates positive sparks

Not that Yankees manager Joe Girardi would ever concede that he allow pitchers to have their favorite catcher, but backup backstop Chris Stewart was again behind the plate Sunday in a game started by CC Sabathia. It marked the third consecutive game Stewart has caught Sabathia. The Yankees have won all three games.

“We’ve been on the same page,” Sabathia said after his sturdy, eight-inning effort in a 6-2 Yanks victory over Detroit. “This is the second straight game that I didn’t shake him off. He has been calling great games. He also catches me on my throw days in the bullpen. It’s a good deal.”

Girardi didn’t get into the issue back in the 1990s when he was the Yankees’ regular catcher but manager Joe Torre allowed Jim Leyritz, then the backup, to work behind the plate regularly with Andy Pettitte. But then, even Girardi has succumbed to that situation when he had Francisco Cervelli work regularly with A.J Burnett the past two years.

Yet the skipper maintained that Sabathia and Stewart is not a permanent battery despite the success. Sabathia was 0-0 with a 6.75 ERA in his first two starts with regular Russell Martin behind the plate and is 3-0 with a 3.47 ERA in his three starts with Stewart catching.

“It has just kind of worked out that way,” Girardi said. “I think it’s easier for a backup catcher who is only going to catch once or maybe twice a week to work with only one or two starters.”

Sabathia’s performance was just what Girardi and the Yankees needed Sunday after the bullpen was spent from working 7 1/3 innings Saturday and 4 2/3 innings Friday night. Except for David Robertson, who pitched the ninth, the guys in the pen had a day off, thanks to CC, who scattered four hits and two walks with eight strikeouts.

Prince Fielder homered off a hanging slider in the fourth inning, and Miguel Cabrera rapped a run-scoring double in the sixth. Considering the damage those two can do, Sabathia had a good day. The Yankees’ offense, which has bailed out so many starters this year with seven comeback victories, stalled for CC somewhat Sunday as 15 runners were stranded, but home runs by Curtis Granderson and Andruw Jones and two RBI from Alex Rodriguez proved sufficient support.

A-Rod moved past Willie Mays on the career RBI list into eighth place with 1,904. Derek Jeter had two infield hits to flirt with .400 again at .396, and Robinson Cano showed signs of coming out of his early-season doldrums with two well-struck singles and an RBI.

On the downside, however, was an injury to Nick Swisher, who has been the Yankees’ most productive hitter (.284, 9 doubles, 6 home runs, 23 RBI) but had to come out of the game in the third inning after drawing a walk. An MRI revealed a low-grade strain of the left hamstring that will keep him out of action for several days.

The Yankees inserted Jones in left field and moved Raul Ibanez to right, an arrangement that may continue during the upcoming three-game series against the Orioles at the Stadium unless the Yanks dip into the minors for temporary help. Brett Gardner (strained right elbow) is not due to come off the 15-day disabled list until Thursday.

A.J. runs away from AL East

The A.J. Burnett saga with the Yankees has finally come to an end. After two seasons that had Yankees fans pulling out their hair on a regular basis, Burnett found a new home. With a surplus of starting pitching, the Yankees were able to ship Burnett to Pittsburgh for a pair of medium-level prospects. They are stuck with paying all but $13 million of what was left on the five-year, $82.5-million contract that he signed before the 2009 season, but the addition-by-subtraction move was worth it to the Yankees.

Burnett was a perplexing figure during his three years with the Yankees in which he was 34-35 with a 4.79 ERA. His 2010 season (10-15, 5.26 ERA) was the worst for a Yankees starting pitcher with more than 30 starts in team history, and 2011 (11-11, 5.15 ERA) wasn’t much better. After coming to the Yankees fresh off an 18-10 season with the Blue Jays when he led the American League in strikeouts with 231 in 221 1/3 innings, Burnett was barely a .500 pitcher in pinstripes.

One of the dangers in assessing pitchers is how they perform against your club. Burnett had been something of a Yankee killer while in Toronto with a 6-3 record and 2.43 ERA in 11 career starts. The Yankees then gave him close to Mike Mussina money but got nowhere near the return that Moose had given them (123-72, 3.88 ERA over eight seasons). Burnett never came close to pitching for the Yanks as well as he pitched against them.

Backers of A.J. point to his victory in Game 2 of the 2009 World Series, which was huge, but in his other start Burnett failed to nail down the Series by lasting merely two innings in Game 5 and had a 7.00 ERA for the Series. His dismal showings against the Red Sox over the three years (1-4, 7.29 ERA) caused manager Joe Girardi to figure out ways to avoid pitching Burnett against Boston if he could.

The Yankees came close to a deal with the Angels for Burnett that would have brought Bobby Abreu back to the Bronx as the left-handed designated hitter they had been seeking to platoon with Andruw Jones. But A.J. utilized his no-trade clause which pertained to West Coast teams because he wanted to stay in the east. So instead of playing alongside Albert Pujols and for one of the game’s foremost managers, Mike Scioscia, Burnett chose to accept a deal to the Pirates.

Maybe it will work out for A.J. in Pittsburgh. The manager there, Clint Hurdle, a former catcher, is a great guy. Burnett gets away from the AL East and will face tamer National League lineups minus the DH. Yankees fans should wish A.J. luck even as they cheer that he is no longer at Yankee Stadium. Someone else will have to handle the pie-in-the-face ceremonies after walk-off victories. I nominate Nick Swisher. What do you think?

 

Yanks’ team effort gets ALDS back to Stadium

The Yankees couldn’t have asked for a better way to stay alive in the American League Division Series and get back to New York for the deciding game Thursday night. The 10-1 victory over the Tigers Tuesday night that squared the series at two games apiece was truly a team effort.

They got a big monkey off their back by winning a possible elimination postseason game for the first time since Game 5 of the ALDS in 2001 against Oakland. Their offense broke out with an attack featuring double digits in hits and runs, and they put on a defensive clinic in the field. The best part was that there were so many players who contributed.

Start with A.J. Burnett, who wasn’t even supposed to start in this series after a regular season in which he was 11-11 with a 5.15 ERA. A rain-forced suspension of Game 1 meant that Yankees manager Joe Girardi needed a fourth starter and he went with Burnett, who made up for a lot of disappointment this year with 5 2/3 innings marred only by a Victor Martinez home run.

Oh, A.J. had his scary moments, mainly in the first inning when he walked three batters. He was saved by Curtis Granderson’s lunging grab of a drive by Don Kelly as the Tigers left the bases loaded. Giradi had Cory Wade warming in the bullpen and might have pulled Burnett’s right there if Kelly’s blast had gotten past Granderson.

The center fielder made another run-saving play in the sixth when it was still a close game at 4-1 with a diving catch in left-center to rob Jhonny Peralta of a potential extra-base hit that would have scored at least one run. The AL Most Valuable Player Award candidate also doubled in a run in the top of the fifth.

Granderson was part of an ensemble lineup that banged out 13 hits, none over the fence as the Yankees enjoyed a game of sustained offense. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira broke out of slumps with singles in the six-run eighth inning. Rodriguez, who was 0-for-12 before that, added a second hit that inning, which could be a sign he is ready to get hot. Nick Swisher also got a hit with a runner in scoring position for the first time in 29 career postseason at-bats.

Derek Jeter drove in two runs with a double that got the Yankees out in front in the third inning. Jorge Posada reached base by getting hit with a pitch and scored. Russell Martin singled twice and walked and scored two runs. Robinson Cano had two more RBI to raise his total in the series to eight. Jesus Montero came off the bench and got hits in his first two career postseason at-bats.

One night after giving up a game-winning home run, Rafael Soriano retired the four batters he faced, followed by Phil Hughes and Boone Logan each working a perfect inning as the bullpen set down the last 10 Detroit batters in order, six on strikeouts.

So the importance of the Yankees’ winning the home field advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs will come into play Thursday night behind Ivan Nova, the Game 1 winner, against Doug Fister, the Game 1 loser, at Yankee Stadium, which is ready to rock the team into the AL Championship Series.

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.

Facing Verlander once proves bad enough for Yanks

I wrote after the Yankees’ Game 1 victory in the American League Division Series that the rain suspension may have worked in their favor. I based that on the fact that they would not have to face Justin Verlander more than once in the series. That is still a plus, but after losing Games 2 and 3, whatever edge I envisioned is long gone.

The Tigers have taken control of the series, and the Yankees are in a position of having to rely on the patently unreliable A.J. Burnett Tuesday night to get the ALDS back to Yankee Stadium for a possible Game 5 Thursday night. That Burnett, who was not going to be in the rotation in this series initially, gets this start is also due to Game 1 going into a second night. It is an opportunity for A.J. to turn around an erratic season.

Delmon Young’s second home run of the series, an opposite-field drive to right off a first-pitch cutter from Rafael Soriano in the seventh inning, was the difference in the 5-4 victory. It would have been terrific if the Yankees could have come back in the ninth against closer Jose Valverde, who had boasted after Detroit won Game 2 that the series was over and would not return to New York. Walks to Jorge Posada and Brett Gardner gave the Yanks hope, but Valverde closed it out by striking out Derek Jeter.

The hyped pairing of Verlander and CC Sabathia turned out pretty one-sided. Verlander spotted the Yankees two first-inning runs, but he pitched through the eighth, ringing 100 or more mph with his fastball occasionally and striking out 11 batters. Sabathia lasted one out into the sixth and was lucky to be only two runs behind considering he walked six (one intentionally).

Yankees manager Joe Girardi implied after the game that plate umpire Gerry Davis squeezed his pitcher somewhat, but Verlander didn’t seem to have trouble, so it sounded like sour grapes. In regular season play, Sabathia is 6-0 with a 2.19 ERA in games with Davis behind the plate, so there is certainly no bad history between them. CC was hurt not so much by the walks but by the unlikely hitting of 9-hole hitter Brandon Inge and platoon second baseman Ramon Santiago, who combined for four hits, two runs and two RBI.

The Yankees’ offense came from the top and bottom of the lineup. Verlander was touched for a single by Jeter and a triple by Curtis Granderson in the two-run first. The Yankees rallied with two outs in the seventh. After Posada, who is having a fine series, walked and Russell Martin was hit by a pitch, Gardner doubled to left-center off a 3-2 fastball that was clocked at 100 mph to tie the score.

As for the middle of the Yankees’ order, Verlander handled it adroitly. Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher combined to go 0-for-14 with six strikeouts. A-Rod did drive in a run with an infield out and walked twice. These guys need to do some damage in Game 4 against Detroit’s Rick Porcello if the Yankees want to create a reason to play Thursday.

Rays stun Yanks’ long parade of relievers

Joe Girardi managed Wednesday night’s game as if were an All-Star Game, and just as what happened to Joe Torre and Bob Brenly in 2002 he ran out of pitchers as the Rays staged a stunning comeback to push the Yankees’ final regular season game into extra innings.

For seven innings as the Yankees were coasting along with a 7-0 lead and working on a combined two-hitter, Girardi was running out pitchers sometimes just one out at a time. A.J. Burnett in fact pitched to only one batter. The strategy seemed fine so long as the Yankees had a huge lead, but man, did everything start coming apart in the eighth.

Think of all those people in the paid crowd of 29,518 at Tropicana Field who left the park early when it appeared their team had no chance to come from behind. Tampa Bay has one of the weakest lineups in the majors, so when the Yankees jumped all over David Price on a grand slam and a solo homer by Mark Teixeira in the first four innings the Jays seemed cooked.

But after Andruw Jones homered in the fifth to make it 7-0, the Yankees stopped hitting. They made 15 consecutive outs before former teammate Kyle Farnsworth walked two batters in the 10th before striking out Austin Romine.

With six outs left in their season and knowing the Red Sox were up by a run in Baltimore, the Rays put together a rally in the eighth against Boone Logan and Luis Ayala. Old pal Johnny Damon got it started with a single. Ben Zobrist, who made a costly error in the first inning, followed with a double.

Two hit batters sandwiched around a walk pushed across two runs. A sacrifice fly by B.J. Upton sent home another. Evan Longoria got the Rays’ only hit in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position, a three-run home run off Ayala that made it a one-run game. The real devastating blow to the Yankees and an uplifting one for the Rays was yet to come.

Right out of a pulp fiction novel, pinch hitter Dan Johnson, down to what seemed Tampa Bay’s last strike of the season, drove a 2-2 changeup from Cory Wade into the right field seats to tie the score.

So the Yankees headed into extras having already used 11 pitchers. After the 11th, Scott Proctor, the only other available arm was Hector Noesi whom Girardi would have preferred to rest. The regular season just wouldn’t end for the Yankees.

They were still on the field when they found out who they will play in the American League Division Series that starts Friday night at Yankee Stadium – the Tigers. The Rangers’ extra-inning victory at Anaheim ensured they would face the wild card entry, the identity of which was not known until after midnight.

In a stunning turn of events, only minutes after the Red Sox lost to the Orioles, who scored two runs off Jonathan Papelbon in the bottom of the ninth, Longoria took Proctor deep with one out in the 12th for a playoff-clinching home run. The Rays’ 8-7 victory over the Yankees completed an amazing comeback against Boston, which lost a nine-game lead in the wild-card standings over 26 days in one of the worst collapses in major-league history.

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.

Mo getting to 600 makes it a magic number

Oh, those nice round numbers in baseball – 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, 300 victories, 3,000 strikeouts.

But 600 saves?

It remains to be seen whether the 600-save plateau for relief pitchers will ever be viewed as the equivalent of 300 victories for a starter. The save statistic have always been a debated issue, but somehow I feel that now that Mariano Rivera has hit that number, 600 will forever be considered a major milestone in the game.

Mo is only the second pitcher to get there. The other, Trevor Hoffman, is merely one save ahead of him. Not to take anything away from Hoffman, but the 600-saves achievement became truly legitimized Tuesday night when Rivera got his 41st save in his 41st year on this planet preserving a 3-2 victory for the Yankees and A.J. Burnett, who desperately needed a victory to keep his slim hold on a rotation position.

Rivera’s 600th career save came in a game in which he did record the final out. Ichiro Suzuki tried to steal second base with two out and was cut down by Russell Martin’s throw with the tag applied by Derek Jeter. How appropriate. Jeter has been on the field for nearly all 600 of those saves. The only thing that would have completed the picture was if Jorge Posada had been the catcher.

Rivera really didn’t need to get to 600 saves to be considered the greatest relief pitcher of all time. Remember, that total does not include the 42 saves he notched in postseason play, which is a bit like when Babe Ruth retired with 714 career home runs, not including the 15 he hit in the World Series.

But baseball fans love round numbers. Ask Al Kaline, who finished his career with 399 home runs. Mickey Mantle always said his greatest disappointment was that his career batting average fell below .300 at .298. Early Wynn took forever to get his 300th career victory, but there was no way he could walk away from the game without getting there.

Rivera took the congratulations from his teammates in his usual, cool manner. Just like Jeter, Mo is all about winning, and the most important thing to him about his saves total is that it means he was a part of 600 Yankees victories.

Somewhat obscured by the way the game ended was the start by Burnett, who had a devastating curve that helped him to 11 strikeouts in six innings. Oh, sure, A.J. had his usual control issues (two wild pitches, two hit batters), but he limited the Mariners to two runs and four hits and won for only the second time in 13 starts since June 29. In his previous four starts, Burnett was 0-2 with an 11.00 ERA, so this was a victory he needed and has reason to savor. And years from now he can always say he was the winning pitcher in the game that Rivera scored his 600th save.

The Yankees’ offense was a bit spotty. One of their runs scored on a wild pitch. Robinson Cano drove in the other two with his 26th home run and a fielder’s choice to run his RBI total to 111, tying Curtis Granderson for the team lead and continuing to make the American League Most Valuable Player situation a two-man race for the Yankees.

But in the end, it was the end that was the story of the game as a player got to a magic number. The save has only been an official statistic since 1969, which was the year Mariano Rivera was born. There is some mystical symmetry to that.

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