Yankees 4 Blue Jays 2
NEW YORK — After he was knocked out in the third inning at Fenway Park in early June, A.J. Burnett vowed to improve.
Has he ever.
Burnett scattered six hits over seven innings to win for the third time in four starts as the Yankees opened their weekend series with a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Friday.
“When you’re clicking, everything just flows,” Burnett said. “When you’re clicking on pitches, you don’t even think about anything. You know, it’s just all confidence out there.”
Robinson Cano homered leading off the second and Alex Rodriguez starting the eighth. The Yankees, who wore jarring red caps as part of Major League Baseball’s Fourth of July weekend celebration, rebounded from Thursday night’s 8-4 loss to Seattle for their eighth win in nine games following a 1-5 slide.
“It was good to have a day game and get back at it really quickly,” said Rodriguez, whose 567th homer — his fifth in eight games — left him two shy of Rafael Palmeiro for 10th place.
It was the start of an unusual stretch of four straight day games between New York and Toronto, a series that includes Saturday’s observance of the 70th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s famous farewell speech.
Burnett had lost 5-1 to his former team and Roy Halladay at Toronto on May 12.
“Completely different,” he said. “Not even close. I didn’t even pay attention to who got in the box today. The first time was kind of weird.”
Burnett (7-4) allowed both runs, struck out seven and walked two. He got his first three strikeouts on 96 mph fastballs, then rung up his final four with curveballs in the low 80s.
Since the loss at Boston, he’s allowed three earned runs in 27 1-3 innings (0.99 earned-run average).
“It’s not so much speed, it’s the location,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Phil Coke and Phil Hughes split the eighth, with Hughes retiring Vernon Wells on an inning-ending grounder with a runner on second. For now, Hughes has supplanted struggling Brian Bruney as Mariano Rivera’s primary setup man.
“I’m just going to continue to go out there and throw when I’m called upon. I don’t really care, man. Everybody’s caught up in what inning,” Bruney said. “It doesn’t matter.”
Bruney has allowed three runs in 4 2-3 innings since returning from the disabled list.
“We need to get him going, and we need to get him right,” Girardi said. “We’re going to pick some innings, and they’ll still be important innings.”
Since he’s been shifted from the rotation to the bullpen in early June, Hughes has gained three to four mph on his fastball to 95-96.
“I can let it go,” he said.
Rivera struck out two in a perfect ninth for his 21st save in 22 chances, No. 503 of his career. Outside of Rivera, the pecking order has been uncertain.
“It didn’t really seem like we settled into any particular role right out of the gate, because we struggled,” Coke said. “Lately, it’s been a little bit of a free-for-all, but we’ve all been effective.”
Brian Tallet (5-6) gave up three runs — two earned — six hits and four walks in six innings as Toronto lost for the fifth time in six games. He walked Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter starting the fifth, then fielded Johnny Damon’s drag bunt and flipped the ball low, a play at first ruled an error but then called a single.
Tallet walked Mark Teixeira on four pitches, forcing in a run and putting the Yankees ahead 2-1. Another run scored on a passed ball by Raul Chavez, who appeared to get crossed up on the first pitch to Cano.
“I put myself in that position,” Tallet said. “No disrespect to Brett Gardner: He’s the guy we don’t walk in that lineup. It’s inexcusable.”