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A.J.'s win was a long time coming

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The last time A.J. Burnett won a ballgame, Barack Obama was president, Justin Bieber was a big star and gas was around $4 a gallon.

In other words, it wasn't that long ago in the overall scheme of things. But in the context of a baseball season, going six weeks between wins for a starting pitcher, especially a team's nominal No. 2, is the equivalent of wandering through the desert for 40 years.

The last time anyone was able to write the following sentence -- "A.J. Burnett picked up the win" -- was June 29, when Burnett beat the Brewers at Yankee Stadium.

But the last time anyone was able to write that sentence in the month of August was, well, never. At least not since Burnett has been a Yankee.

That is truly mind-boggling and season-stifling and career-affecting.

In the two-plus years he has been a Yankee, A.J. Burnett had never managed to win a game in August. In 2009 and 2010, he was 0-8 with a 6.81 ERA in August, and although he hadn't lost a game yet in August 2011, this was shaping up as his worst August of them all. In two starts, he had allowed 11 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings, for an ERA of 9.58.

Until Monday night at Kauffman Stadium, when Burnett made it into the sixth inning and made it out of the ballpark with his ninth win of the season, thanks more to his team's offense than to his effectiveness. The Yankees won 7-4, rallying for three runs after the lowly Royals had overcome an 0-2 deficit to take a 3-2 lead in the fifth, then tacked on two more later just to be certain.

In fact, the last time A.J. Burnett won a game for anyone in August was back on Aug. 19, 2008, as a Blue Jay. He threw eight innings of five-hit, one-run, 13-strikeout ball against -- yes, indeed -- the New York Yankees.

That might well have been the performance -- as well as his 2-0 record and 2.60 ERA against the Red Sox that year -- that persuaded the Yankees to sign him to the five-year, $82.5 million contract they now are saddled with through 2013. In fact, Burnett was 8-4 with a 3.40 ERA against the American League East that year. As the saying goes, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

In hindsight, of course, it was anything but. Burnett hasn't been close to the same pitcher for the Yankees as he was against them that day, and even on a Monday night in Kansas City, facing arguably the worst team in the AL, Burnett was in a life-and-death struggle before Joe Girardi yanked him in favor of Boone Logan with two out in the sixth and a runner on first.

"I think it was huge that we responded like that," Girardi said. "For us and for A.J., I think he's thrown the ball better than some of the outcomes that he's had and I'm sure it feels good to get a win in your column."

It wasn't pretty -- Burnett allowed 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings, struck out only two and despite walking just one, did it with the bases loaded in the fifth -- but considering his record over the past six weeks and over the past three Augusts, it was more than good enough.

"I'd forgotten," Burnett answered candidly when asked whether he knew the last time he had won a game. "It's been crazy. There's a lot of things I'm not content with but it feels good to feel like you're a part of it."

While the Yankees have gone 20-11 since the All-Star break to keep pace with the Boston Red Sox, Burnett has gone 0-3 and kept pace with no one.

Things got so bad that after his worst outing of the year on Aug. 3, when he couldn't last long enough to get a win despite being staked to a 13-2 lead, a groundswell of Yankees fans were calling for Burnett to be yanked from the rotation.

That prompted GM Brian Cashman to offer a ringing defense of Burnett this past Friday, shouldering much of the blame himself and suggesting that fans and media critics "smoke the objective pipe" before judging Burnett too harshly.

Some might be wondering what exactly Cashman was smoking in his pipe when he let loose, but after Monday's game, Girardi parroted a lot of what his boss said last week.

"I think a lot of times when players are evaluated, I think their salary is one thing that's always thrown into the mix, and that's understandable," Girardi said. "With a high salary, there's always high expectations. But there's been some games here he could have won where we didn't score runs. Everyone's going to have a different opinion on what's fair in life and what's not fair, but I think on some nights he's pitched better than his record."

Just not lately. Since the All-Star break, Burnett has been winless in six starts with an ERA of 6.21.

On Monday night, Burnett got help from former teammate Melky Cabrera, who went wobbly legged under a Nick Swisher line drive that he should have caught, which led directly to a two-run second inning. He also got some help from second base, which redirected a soft grounder by Andruw Jones away from second baseman Johnny Giavotella, resulting in another run of the game.

He also got some terrifically timely hitting from Derek Jeter, whose two-run triple to the gap in right reversed Burnett's bad fifth inning and gave the Yankees a 5-3 lead in the sixth, a lead the bullpen never gave back.

And Burnett made one outstanding pitch, a fastball that ran in on Eric Hosmer, resulting in the double play that ended the fifth inning and stopped the bleeding before Burnett's night bled out.

"Obviously, I would have liked to go deeper," Burnett said. "But you can't fight City Hall. Skip's got a reason for everything, and the way I look at it, we build off this one, I start pitching a little better and give [Girardi] some confidence in me. The bottom line is, the better I pitch, the longer I stay in there."

Girardi claimed his confidence in Burnett has not wavered, but he did not hesitate to go to Logan when Mike Moustakas, a left-handed hitter batting just .184, came to the plate in the sixth.

"A.J.'s had some problems with left-handers," Girardi said. "I just thought it was time to go to Boonie in that situation."

Logan picked off Johnny Giavotella to end the sixth and struck out Moustakas to start the seventh before Rafael Soriano came in and allowed his first run in 6 2/3 innings since his return from the DL on July 29. But David Robertson pitched a shutdown eighth and Mariano Rivera, coming off three straight alarmingly subpar outings, set the world back on its axis by pitching a clean ninth for his 31st save.

Someone jokingly asked Burnett, the official Yankees deliverer of the walkoff pies, whether he expected similar treatment from his teammates after the game.

"For five and two-third innings?" he scoffed. "No pie for that. A cupcake, maybe."

With one candle on it, representing that rarest of accomplishments, an A.J. Burnett victory in August.

•••

Jeter had three hits, three RBIs and a stolen base that set up the Yankees' seventh run. Over the past four games, he is 9-for-17 (.529) and has raised his batting average to .283. "I've been staying back, better, that's all," he said. "If you stay back longer you're going to drive balls more, and that's what I've been doing since I've been back [from the disabled list]." ... Rivera laughed when asked whether he needed a good outing for his own peace of mind. "No, no," he said. "I don't worry about anything. I have peace of mind, believe me." ... The Royals came into the game leading the league in stolen bases, but Russell Martin threw out two would-be base-stealers along with Logan's pickoff. ... Brett Gardner had two RBI singles. ... Ivan Nova (11-4, 3.85 ERA) faces LHP Danny Duffy (3-6, 4.97) on Tuesday night, first pitch at 8:10 ET.