The entire world owes A.J. Burnett an apology.
Collective confidence in the Yankee right-hander was so low in the hours leading up to Tuesday night's Game Four that if he had allowed three runs in three innings, people would have turned cartwheels in the middle of Fifth Avenue. After Burnett's performance, they might be wondering if it would be possible for him to start on one day's rest. .
With the Yankees backed into a corner, Burnett allowed one run and four hits in 5.2 innings to help the Yankees to a 10-1 win. That means we're going to get a pivotal Game Five in the Bronx on Thursday night, something that felt highly unlikely when the game got underway.
Burnett walked three Tigers in the first inning and looked set to add another disaster to his already lengthy record of them when Curtis Granderson saved his bacon by recovering from a misjudgment to nab Don Kelly's liner to center. That seemed to turn something on inside Burnett, because he returned to the mound throwing strikes and flashing the plus curveball we've seen so rarely over the last two years.
One of the biggest knocks against Burnett during his time with the Yankees has been his unwillingness to make adjustments when things aren't working for him on the mound. He made the necessary changes on Tuesday, though, and the Yankees are a live to fight another day as a result.
There was a bit of luck -- a Miguel Cabrera line drive right at Derek Jeter -- and Burnett also got plenty of help from his defense. Granderson's catch was followed by several fine plays by Alex Rodriguez at third and a nifty scoop of a poor throw on a double play by Mark Teixeira, but they merely supplemented the outing Burnett and the Yankees had to have.
Joe Girardi deserves credit for pulling Burnett at exactly the moment he started to look vulnerable, avoiding a mistake he made in Game Four of last year's ALCS. He turned to Rafael Soriano, who continued the night's theme of redemption for maligned Yankee pitchers.
Granderson helped Soriano out as well by making a spectacular leaping catch to end the sixth with a runner on base. Soriano then turned in a flawless seventh inning to erase memories of the home run he allowed Monday that put the yankees on the brink.
The redemption song could be also be played for the Yankee bats. Derek Jeter got his first hit with runners on base all series when he drove in the first two runs of the night with a double in the third and the struggling Alex Rodriguez/Mark Teixeira/Nick Swisher trio all had singles in the eighth to touch off a game-sealing rally that featured Jesus Montero's first postseason at-bat, hit and RBI.
Hits kept coming after Montero's single plated A-Rod and the Yankees scored six times in all to break open a game that had still been in some doubt up until that point. Rodriguez had another hit later in the inning, giving him two in the series and raising hope that his bat has finally recovered from its extended cold spell.
The win marked the first time the Yankees staved off elimination on the road since Game Four of the 2001 ALDS, a span that was marked with quite a few tough defeats in the same situation. The fact that Burnett was the man to end that streak by turning in the best Yankee start of the series remains a bit hard to believe, but it really happened and the reaction of his teammates when he left the game made it clear that fans weren't the only ones blown away by the development.
It is hard to put it in terms much simpler than this: Burnett saved the season on Tuesday night. Now it is up to his teammates to do it again on Thursday.