With a fake nail on the index finger of his pitching hand, A.J. Burnett was able to throw his knuckle-curve for strikes and dominated the Yankees for six innings last night. Mike Mussina had a decent curve himself, but not the yakker he displayed in some of his spring training outings. The result was a typical post-2003 Mike Mussina start: 5 2/3 IP, 4 R, 2 K. Though Mussina kept it close, it was obvious from the very start which way the game was going to go.
Moose gave up a hard-luck unearned run in the first. Scrappy David Eckstein led off the game with a sinking liner to the right side that Giambi knocked down, but didn't glove cleanly. When Giambi came up with the ball, he looked to flip to Mussina for the out, but Mussina, who had broken for the bag on contact, eased up when Giambi came to his feet expecting the big lug to take it himself. With no other option, Giambi did just that and his foot hit the bag at the exact instant that Eckstein's foot did. There is no official rule that the tie goes to the runner, but that's what happened. Giambi was charged with an error on the play, I assume for either his brief bobble or his apparent hesitation over what to do with the ball once he had it, but if Mussina covers, Eckstein's out. Giambi made another nice play later in the game, diving up the line with his foot on the bag to snag a Derek Jeter throw in the dirt for an out, and made a valiant but fruitless (and thankfully harmless) dive into the camera pit in pursuit of a foul pop. Back in the first inning, Eckstein was move to second by a well-placed ground-ball single by Shannon Stewart and plated by a flare over Robinson Cano's head by Alex Rios, though he would have been out had Jose Molina fielded Bobby Abreu's throw cleanly. In Molina's defense, he threw out both attempting Toronto base steelers in the game.
The Jays made it 3-0 in the third on a two-out walk to Rios and a two-run Vernon Wells homer to left on a hanging slider that Mussina said was his worst slider of the game. They then added on in the sixth, despite Johnny Damon snagging a would-be wall-scraping homer by Rios to start the inning. Wells followed that out with a single and was pushed to second when a Mussina changeup (Mussina called it a "lazy curve") appeared to nick the bill of Frank Thomas's helmet. Mussina then got Lyle Overbay to fly out for the second out and got ahead of Aaron Hill 0-2, but Hill singled Wells home on a fat 84-mile-per-hour fastball up in the zone, bringing Joe Girardi out of the dugout to make the first mid-inning pitching change of his Yankee career. LaTroy Hawkins got the third on out a fly ball with a single pitch to Marco Scutaro, proving that Girardi is a managerial genius. Unfortunately, the Jays added another run against Hawkins in the seventh when Rod Barajas hit a ground-ball double down the right field line, moved to third on an Eckstein grounder, and scored on a single by Rios.
Burnett, meanwhile, allowed just four singles through six innings and didn't walk a man nor allow a Yankee past first base until the seventh, when Bobby Abreu led off with a walk and Alex Rodriguez followed with a two-run bomb to dead center. That shot drove Burnett from the game, but Toronto relievers Brian Tallet (two perfect innings, 4 Ks) and Jeremy Accardo were no more generous. The Yanks made thingS interesting against Accardo in the bottom of the ninth when Derek Jeter and Bobby Abreu led off with singles to put men on first and second and bring the tying run to the plate, but Alex Rodriguez struck out at the end of a tense six-pitch at-bat, Jason Giambi hit a 390-foot fly out to the 399-foot sign in center, and Robinson Cano flied out to left on the first pitch he saw to give the Jays a 5-2 win.