Or maybe it’s just that even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and again. Either way, the Yankees finally beat A.J. Burnett last night, and did it largely thanks to six strong innings from Carl Pavano, who has now won both of his starts since returning from his long injury-induced exile, thereby doubling his win total from the previous 38 months.
Pavano wasn’t great. Typically a slight groundball pitcher, he got 13 of his 18 outs in the air, many of them hard hit balls either right at infielders or to the deepest parts of the outfield. Still, he gave up just three hits in those six innings, walked just one, and held the Blue Jays to one sixth-inning run when Jays’ rookie Travis Snider bounced a ground-rule double over the fence in center for his first major league hit, and Marco Scutaro singled him home.
Pavano needed just 72 pitches to get through those first six innings, but Joe Girardi decided to count his blessings at that point as the Yankees held a slim 2-1 lead.
The Yankees got their runs in a wacky fourth inning. Johnny Damon led off by hitting a ball off the top of the right field wall, directly on the white stripe of the foul line. In the first Yankee game eligible for replay, first base umpire Jeff Nelson got the call right without argument and Damon pulled up with a 314-foot single. Two pitches later, Damon stole second. Catcher Rod Barajas’s throw beat Damon, as did second baseman Joe Inglett’s tag, but Inglett caught the ball high in the webbing of his glove and the force od Damon’s slide knocked it loose as he slid by. Burnett struck out Derek Jeter on three more pitches, one of Burnett’s eight strikeouts in his eight-inning complete-game loss, but Bobby Abreu served a 3-1 pitch into the gap in left-center for a double that plated Damon with the game’s first run. When Alex Rodriguez chopped Burnett’s next pitch in between third base and shortstop, Abreu, somewhat misguidedly, took off for third base, perhaps thinking that the ball would get through. Shortstop Scutaro made an awkward attempt to backhand the ball, bobbled it, then threw late to third base as Abreu made an even more awkward slide into the bag, deciding at the last second to slide and almost stopping his momentum before dropping into a bent-knee split and touching the bag with his back foot. It wasn’t pretty, but it put runners on the corners with out out. Jason Giambi then flared the next pitch foul down the left field line where left fielder Snider almost overran it and had to leap backwards to make the catch, allowing Abreu to tag and score what proved to be the winning run.
Buoyed by that extra run, Girardi had Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte split the seventh inning, then brought out Jose Veras for the eighth. Veras gave up a leadoff double to Barajas, then walked Scott Rolen on five pitches, so Girardi brought in Edwar Ramirez to face the lefty Snider, whom Ramirez struck out. Going for the throat, Girardi then called on Mariano Rivera, who got a groundball and a strikeout to strand both runners, then worked around a one-out single by Vernon Wells to nail down the win in the ninth.
The 2-1 win was particularly uplifting for the monkeys it brushed of the team’s back (specifically Burnett and Pavano), and because it lasted a mere two hours and 36 minutes. The Red Sox, Twins, and Rays all won as well, so it did little to revive the Yankees moribund postseason hopes, but small victories like this are what they have left to offer this season, and the last two games have done a lot to remind the spoiled Yankee fanbase that there’s joy to be had in small victories, too.