In his emotional defense of A.J. Burnett last Friday, general manager Brian Cashman uttered one of the most memorable phrases of his tenure. "If you smoke the objective pipe,'' Cashman said, "I think the coverage on him will be a little bit more accurate.''
Looking objectively at Burnett's start Monday night, this much can be said: He was what he's been much of this season and, really, his entire career.
Burnett was inconsistent, but on a night when his offense and defense provided plenty of support, he was good enough to earn an August win for the first time in his three years as a Yankee in a 7-4 victory over the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
"It feels good," Burnett said. "It makes you feel a part of it."
The Yankees (73-46), who got three hits and three RBIs from Derek Jeter and two RBI singles from Brett Gardner, pulled even with Boston atop the AL East. Jeter, whose two-run triple put the Yankees ahead 5-3, is hitting .326 (45-for-138) since returning from the disabled list July 4.
More significant than Burnett's first August victory as a Yankee -- and first win since June 29 -- Mariano Rivera shoved aside his recent troubles (three straight appearances in which he allowed at least a run) with a perfect ninth to record his 31st save. Crisis averted, though neither the closer nor his clubhouse expressed any worry. "I have peace of mind," Rivera said. "Believe me, I do."
The closer may have peace of mind, but few do when it comes to Burnett (9-9), who came in 0-8 with a 7.18 ERA in his August starts as a Yankee. He allowed three runs and 10 hits -- his second-highest total of the season -- in 52/3 innings. He kept the Yankees in the game, which he's done in most starts, but also showed why giving him a postseason start could be dangerous.
Though he shut out the Royals in the first four innings, he gave up three hits in the second and two in the fourth. Russell Martin caught Jeff Francoeur trying to steal to help him get out of the second and Eric Chavez started a 5-4-3 double play to get him out of the fourth.
To Burnett's credit, the three-run fifth, in which he gave up four hits and a bases-loaded walk, could have been worse. Robinson Cano started a 4-6-3 double play to keep the damage at three runs and give the Yankees' hitters a chance. "I don't win that game without our offense," Burnett said.
Girardi, showing his level of confidence in the pitcher, pulled Burnett after only 88 pitches with one on and two outs in the sixth, bringing in lefthander Boone Logan to face Mike Moustakas, who came in hitting .184.
"Can't fight City Hall," said Burnett, who didn't blame the manager. "Skip's got a reason for everything, and the way I look at it, we build from this one. You start pitching a little better and give Skip some confidence. Bottom line is the better I pitch, the longer I'm going to stay out there."
A reporter asked Burnett if a teammate was tempted to slam him with one of the victory pies for which he's become known after walk-off victories. "Not for 52/3," he said. "Maybe a cupcake. You have to be a lot better than three runs in 52/3 for a pie."