NEW YORK (AP) -- Kevin Brown thought he might be nearing the end
of his career.
He spent the first two months of the season battling his body,
perplexed by his performance. Then he spent seven weeks on the
disabled list because of back spasms and an intestinal parasite
that weakened him."You just can't help but look over your shoulder and wonder,"
he said.Brown got his answer Thursday, when he pitched his best game of
the season.In his second start since coming off the disabled list, Brown
threw four-hit ball over eight shutout innings to beat Oakland's
Barry Zito. Newly signed John Olerud went 3-for-3 with a two-run
double on his 36th birthday, leading the New York Yankees over the
Athletics 5-1."That's the Kevin Brown we knew was in there somewhere, and he
knew was in there somewhere," Yankees manager Joe Torre said.Brown (9-1) struck out seven and walked two as he matched the
longest outing by a Yankees starter this season. Always his own
biggest critic, Brown used the words pleased, happy and satisfied."I'm not 100 percent as far as strength and stamina," he said,
"but I'm a heck of a lot better."When he struggled, the 39-year-old right-hander at times wasn't
sure how much he had left."I want to leave the game, I don't want the game to leave me,"
he said. "That's probably every player's wish, to go out playing
well and not have something happen that takes the game away from
you."New York desperately needs him to pitch like an ace.It was just the 10th time a Yankees pitcher threw eight innings,
the first in 19 starts since Jose Contreras beat Detroit on July
15. New York starters entered with a 5.06 ERA, 24th among the 30
major league teams, and they averaged just 5.76 innings per start,
18th in the majors, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.Even though the Yankees lead second-place Boston by 9½ games in
the AL East, Torre called it a big win."He was overpowering. His stuff was moving all over the place.
Hs sinker was just unhittable," catcher Jorge Posada said.While the catcher usually sets the target, Brown became Posada's
bull's-eye in the sixth inning. Chasing Jermaine Dye's popup,
Posada threw his mask into the pitcher's stomach."I guess I was in the wrong spot," Brown said.Third baseman Alex Rodriguez wound up catching the ball. Posada
had no idea his pitcher was there."I saw it on the replay -- he's got to get out of the way," the
catcher said.Paul Quantrill allowed an unearned run in a hitless ninth on
errors by Rodriguez and second baseman Miguel Cairo. Oakland, which
lost for just the third time in 12 games, dropped into second place
in the AL West, a half-game behind Texas.Olerud, who had a double, two singles and was hit by a pitch, is
5-for-8 since signing with the Yankees on Tuesday, 11 days after
Seattle decided to go with youth and released him following a
subpar first half. Torre was confident Olerud would respond."You don't lose it all of a sudden," the manager said.Signed because Jason Giambi is on the disabled list with a
benign tumor, Olerud has worked with hitting coach Don Mattingly to
lessen hip movement during his swing."It's definitely a renewed focus," Olerud said. "It's been a
lot of fun."Zito (7-8), the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner, also has
struggled, having difficulty locating his big curveball for the
past year. He had rebounded somewhat of late, going 3-0 after a
six-start span in which he was 0-4, but he allowed five runs -- four
earned -- and 11 hits in 6 2-3 innings against the Yankees."I think I made some good pitches that got hit," he said.
"Overall, I thought I threw pretty well."New York took a 3-0 lead in the second after left fielder Eric
Byrnes dropped Rodriguez's leadoff liner for an error. Hideki
Matsui singled, and Ruben Sierra reached down for a breaking ball
at the knees on the outside corner and pulled it for an RBI double."That play needs to be made," Byrnes said. "This is the big
leagues. I have to catch the ball."Olerud, 11-for-25 (.440) against Zito, followed with an
opposite-field double to the gap in left-center. Derek Jeter added
an RBI double in the fifth, and Matsui chased Zito with a
run-scoring single in the seventh.
Yankees 2B Enrique Wilson has a bruised right shoulder from
Wednesday night's diving stop. An MRI was negative. ... Gary
Sheffield was kneed in the head by 2B Marco Scutaro on a double
play but is OK, Torre said. ... Posada took a foul ball off his
right thumb, which was heavily wrapped after the game.