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Miranda's single helps Yanks walk off

Miranda's single helps Yanks walk off

NEW YORK -- Try telling Juan Miranda that these games don't matter. After a successful season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Miranda has never seen a stage this big.

Try telling David Robertson these games don't matter. Coming back from injury, he needs this time to prove his health -- and his worth -- for October.

Most of all, try telling it to A.J. Burnett. As far as the Yankees were concerned Tuesday, Burnett's pitching meant more than any game result could. But Burnett still found plenty of joy in his 15th pie of the season, this one to the face of Miranda in a 4-3 walk-off victory over the Royals.

"I was waiting for it," Miranda said through makeshift interpreter and fellow late-September hero Ramiro Pena.

And Burnett delivered it. Long after Burnett fired 6 1/3 dynamic -- if not particularly efficient -- innings against the Royals, Miranda scorched a ground ball up the middle, where it glanced off the leg of former Yankees reliever Kyle Farnsworth and bounded toward the home dugout.

Eric Hinske, who singled and stole second earlier in the ninth inning, raced home with the winning run. And the Yankees completed their 15th -- yes, their 15th -- walk-off victory at the new Yankee Stadium, in their 80th home game of the year.

"I think a lot would be five or six," Hinske said. "Wouldn't it?"

It would. Not since 1943, when the Yankees walked off winners 17 times, has the team enjoyed more final-inning success. Tuesday's rally began when Francisco Cervelli -- part of a mass substitution late in the game -- singled on another ball that deflected off Farnsworth for a hit. Moving to third on Hinske's single, Cervelli then scored when Robinson Cano boomed a sacrifice fly to deep center field.

"I beat myself not fielding that ground ball," Farnsworth said of the Cervelli hit.

After Hinske stole second and moved to third on catcher John Buck's throwing error, Miranda -- who ranked third in the International League with 82 RBIs this season -- drove him home, preventing Burnett from absorbing an undue loss.

For 6 1/3 innings, Burnett was back in his midsummer form, mowing down the Royals and stating his case for a Game 2 start in the American League Division Series. Allowing merely three hits, but walking three batters and throwing 108 pitches, Burnett was sharp but inefficient, dynamic but wild. It's a combination that has worked for him in the past -- and if not for Phil Coke's throwing error after Burnett departed in the seventh, it would have worked for him again.

Nonetheless, no-decision aside, Burnett submitted his third consecutive impressive start after flying back and forth to Arkansas this week to spend time with his father, who underwent successful triple-bypass surgery on Monday. And with one more tune-up start before the playoffs begin, Burnett said he feels strong.

"My mind's pretty clear up here," Burnett said. "I'm just going with the flow of the game."

The same could be said for Robertson, who had not pitched since Sept. 5 due to right elbow stiffness. In danger of losing a playoff roster spot if he cannot prove he is healthy, Robertson eliminated most doubts when he felt no pain while recording two outs -- one a strikeout -- in the eighth. If he can report similar results after pitching again later this week, his roster spot may become secure.

"I don't feel anything," said Robertson, who visited Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., earlier this month. "It wasn't stiff at all."

Nor were the Yankees stiff -- quite the opposite, in fact. With four games now standing between them and the start of their first-round playoff series, the Bombers were again loose and relaxed on Tuesday. Though they care far more about health and rest than victories at this point, they continue to chug along -- now seven straight wins and counting.

And all those pies in the face, the direct result of a massive home-field advantage that the Yankees have enjoyed this season, can only help. Burnett, the mastermind behind the project, recalled once being unsure if his little tradition would catch on in New York, where the club has created plenty of long-standing traditions themselves.

Burnett was sitting in the clubhouse on May 1, though, when Jorge Posada hit a walk-off single against the Angels, the team's second such win of the season. Mariano Rivera looked in Burnett's direction and instructed him to find the whipped cream.

"And if Mo tells me to go, I'm going," Burnett said.

Little did the Yankees know that a dozen or so additional walk-offs would follow, helping the team tie the all-time record for most wins at a ballpark in its first season -- now 57 and counting, with a chance on Wednesday to stretch the mark to 58. It's a record that has stood for 96 years, ever since the Red Sox opened Fenway Park with a 57-20 record in 1912.

Boston, not coincidentally, won the World Series that year. It's a goal that New York, chugging along as efficiently as can be, continues to have in mind.

"This is the thing that we want," Nick Swisher said. "You want to keep this momentum going right into the postseason. And we've got it right now."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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