Yanks rally, walk off with 102nd win
The regular season has been such a rousing success for the Yankees that even fourth-string backups and little-known minor leaguers are getting in on the fun.
That's just fine with A.J. Burnett, who has plenty of whipped cream for all of them.
Burnett pitched well in an encouraging playoff tuneup and New York rallied for two runs in the ninth inning Tuesday night, beating the Kansas City Royals 4-3 for its seventh straight victory.
"I'm just really confident now. I feel good," Burnett said. "I knew I'd be strong with the extra day. My mind's pretty clear out there. I'm just going with the flow of the game."
Seldom-used Juan Miranda got the game-winning hit off ex-Yankee Kyle Farnsworth (1-5), an infield single that caromed off the reliever's leg and into foul territory between home plate and first base.
Miranda raised his arms in jubilation as he crossed the bag and the AL East champions rushed out of the dugout to celebrate as if they'd just won a playoff series. The custom all season, Burnett pasted Miranda in the face with a whipped cream pie during his television interview on the field.
Nine players have game-ending hits for the Yankees this year, including two rookies who spent most of the season in the minors: Miranda and Francisco Cervelli.
"There are two guys left on the list," Burnett said, thinking of Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter. "Tex and Jeet."
Following its big league-best 15th walk-off win, New York (102-56) is 46 games above .500 for the first time since finishing 114-48 in 1998. With a 57-23 record at home, the Yankees said they matched the record for most victories at a ballpark in its first season - Boston went 57-20 at Fenway Park in 1912, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau.
New York's 50th comeback victory, also tops in the majors, cost Anthony Lerew his first major league win. Called up from Double-A last week, Lerew quieted a Yankees lineup filled mostly with regulars. He yielded only solo homers to Teixeira and Nick Swisher in six-plus innings.
"He deserved a lot better. He was outstanding. He maintained his composure really well," Royals manager Trey Hillman said.
Looking for his 100th career win, Burnett allowed two runs - one earned - and three hits in 6 1-3 innings. He struck out eight and walked three.
More important, the hard-throwing right-hander has strung together three solid starts following six weeks of inconsistency. He was originally scheduled to pitch Monday but his turn was pushed back a day so he could be with his father, who had triple bypass surgery.
Burnett is slated to start the regular-season finale Sunday at Tampa Bay, following CC Sabathia on Friday and Andy Pettitte on Saturday. That would put Burnett in line to pitch Game 3 of New York's first-round playoff series - but that order could change.
With their opponent and schedule still to be determined, the Yankees have not committed to a postseason rotation beyond giving the ball to Sabathia in the opener.
"If I'm going to pitch in the postseason I definitely have to go one pitch at a time," Burnett said, estimating that his struggles were 80 percent mental. "That's just me. A little bit of the streakiness was due to mechanics. But we looked at some video and straightened out some kinks."
Another good sign for New York was the return of reliever David Robertson, who hadn't pitched since Sept. 5 because of elbow stiffness. Robertson entered to start the eighth and struck out No. 3 batter Billy Butler before getting a groundout and issuing a walk.
"The elbow felt good. Didn't have any problems. Felt like normal," Robertson said.
The right-hander was lifted for Brian Bruney (5-0), who tossed 1 1-3 scoreless innings.
Two days after clinching the division title and home-field advantage throughout the postseason, the Yankees rested catcher Jorge Posada, second baseman Robinson Cano and center fielder Melky Cabrera.
Cano entered on defense in the ninth and tied it 3-all with a sacrifice fly against Farnsworth, who also failed to field Cervelli's one-out infield single.
"Routine plays like that open up big innings sometimes," Farnsworth said. "That's what happened."
Burnett issued a leadoff walk in the seventh and was pulled with one out after throwing 108 pitches. He received a warm ovation and tipped his cap to the crowd of 44,794.
"The prize is next month and that's what I told him," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
NOTES: Kansas City took advantage of shoddy fielding by reliever Phil Coke in the seventh to build a 3-1 lead. ... Yankees C Jose Molina snapped an 0-for-19 slump with a third-inning single.