NEW YORK — Nearly three years have passed, but A.J. Burnett has finally done what the Yankees envisioned when they chased him so passionately as a free agent: Beat the Boston Red Sox.
The right-hander said he got goosebumps from a standing ovation, having hurled 7 2/3 strong innings on Sunday to defeating the skidding Red Sox, 6-2, in the first game of a day-night doubleheader at Yankee Stadium.
“It means a lot, you know,” Burnett said. “They’ve been rough, but I’ve given them reason to be rough. That makes up for everything. Walking off that mound to that ovation is incredible.”
Burnett’s effort ended a string of 10 overall starts against the Red Sox — including nine as a Yankee — dating back to Sept. 19, 2008, dealing another blow to a Boston club that has good reason to fret about their postseason chances.
The Yankees have no such worries, now acting as spoilers, but there are several key decisions waiting ahead — and, as Burnett said, he hopes to be giving manager Joe Girardi a tough decision with his playoff rotation.
“I’ve been giving him headaches all year; why not give him a good headache, you know?” Burnett said.
Burnett is not guaranteed a place in the first-round postseason rotation, where Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia could follow CC Sabathia in the AL Division Series, but now Girardi has new ammunition to consider.
“We’re going to continue to look at it and talk about it,” Girardi said. “Our opponent has something to do with who we’re going to pitch and how we go about this, but we still don’t know that opponent.”
Winning for the second time in three starts, Burnett was touched for a pair of solo homers by Jacoby Ellsbury but little else. The right-hander scattered five hits with two walks and six strikeouts.
“You go [chasing] out of the zone, it’s hard,” Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. “He’s throwing 95 and has a breaking ball. We chased a lot of pitches out of the zone. I understand that’s when he’s successful, and he got us today.”
That outing was enough to win him at least one fan in the clubhouse — Jorge Posada, who had his own big day and supported the idea of Burnett starting next month.
“I think you go with the hot hand,” Posada said. “A.J. pitched a [heck] of a game today and Freddy pitched a [heck] of a game the other day. Then you’ve got CC and Nova.”
Boston’s freefall continued in the defeat, dropping the Red Sox to 5-18 this month and providing the Rays with an expanding glimmer of hope in the AL Wild Card chase.
Behind Tim Wakefield, the tone for the afternoon was set in a sloppy first inning as the Yankees took advantage of an error, a passed ball and a wild pitch to score their first pair of runs.
Brett Gardner and Derek Jeter led off with bunt singles and steals of second, leading to Gardner scoring on an error by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
A passed ball and a wild pitch on Wakefield’s darting knuckler sent Jeter home, slumping the Red Sox’s shoulders a few inches more.
“They put pressure on them right away,” Girardi said. “I’m very thankful that I never had to catch a knuckleballer in my career. I’m not sure I would have slept the night before that night.”
Batting cleanup for the first time since 2009 as Girardi looks to offer his regulars some rest, Posada belted his 14th home run of the season in the third inning, a two-run laser to right field.
Summoned for a curtain call, Posada patted his heart. Posada is essentially guaranteed a spot on the playoff roster, and though his role is uncertain, his standing among the fans is strong.
“The fans have been amazing all through my career, but especially this year,” Posada said. “They’ve been very supportive. … It’s very meaningful for me that the fans are behind me 100 percent.”
In the fifth, Jeter reached on a single and a Carl Crawford error, scoring on Alex Rodriguez’s hit to knock Wakefield out after four-plus innings.
Wakefield allowed five runs (three earned) on five hits, walking five and striking out four.
“That’s a tough one,” Posada said. “He is tough to face and to try to slow yourself down that much. I’ve really got a lot of respect for Wakefield, he’s done a lot for the game and he’s a perfect gentleman.”
Jeter doubled home Brandon Laird in the sixth facing Matt Albers to open up a four-run lead for New York, the captain’s third hit of the afternoon.