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Bombers boost Burnett in rubber game

Bombers boost Burnett in rubber game

ST. PETERSBURG -- Who said these guys couldn't work together? The battery of A.J. Burnett and Jorge Posada seemed to click together just fine on Sunday, teaming up to send the Yankees home on a high note.

Burnett overcame a shaky beginning to spin seven quality innings of two-run ball and Posada belted a two-run homer, leading the charge as the defending champions celebrated a 7-3 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field.

Alex Rodriguez added two RBIs and Nick Swisher also homered for the Yankees, who are heading to the Bronx to pick up their World Series rings and open their 81-game Yankee Stadium slate on Tuesday against the Angels.

"We're going home and we've got a tough team coming up, but we're playing good," Posada said. "Hopefully we can continue what we've been doing here. It comes down to pitching, it really has."

The Yankees got what they needed from Burnett, making his second start of the year and picking up his first victory. Burnett limited Tampa Bay to two runs on six hits, picking up a 3-2 lead in the sixth inning when Posada swatted a two-run homer.

It would be enough, even though Burnett said that he wasn't in love with his arsenal against Tampa Bay, shying away from a curveball that he felt was "a little short."

Posada -- who had not caught Burnett since last Sept. 1, but has now worked with him twice this year -- told him that he could go through with what he had. With only one strikeout, Burnett put his trust heavily on Posada and his defense.

"I didn't really feel like I had a lot out there today," Burnett said. "I saw the swings and had a little life at the end of the fastball, so I just stayed aggressive with it. It'll come."

Burnett walked three in the 92-pitch effort, and the only runs he allowed came in the first inning, when the Rays took a 2-0 lead. That led pitching coach Dave Eiland to get in Burnett's ear.

"He was feeling his way around, he wasn't sure what he had," Eiland said. "I just wanted to let him know that his stuff was good, to attack the strike zone and use the plate. It was plenty good to get these guys out."

In the first, Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford each singled, stole second base and scored, with Carlos Pena adding a run-scoring fielder's choice. With advice from Posada and Eiland in tow, Burnett then faced the minimum until the sixth.

"It makes you pitch a little bit," Burnett said. "I think I've been learning the last couple of years how to pitch. It's not just rearing back and throwing it as hard as you can.

"It wasn't like I was out there going, 'Oh God, where's all my stuff?' It wasn't that. It was just that I've had better stuff. These guys hit me good at times, so one pitch at a time was big today."

Tropicana Field's quirks created a jam for the right-hander in the sixth. Evan Longoria lifted a soaring two-out popup that struck the 'B' level catwalk and fell to the infield untouched, counting as a ball in play -- and a single -- under the stadium's ground rules.


"To come in to play a team like Boston to open up the season and then play the Rays right after that, these are two tough series. I think that just shows where our focus is. We feel good, we've got a great team, and we've got guys off to hot starts. That's helping us out a lot."
-- Nick Swisher

"There's not much we can say," Posada said. "Whatever they're going to call, whatever they saw. It's not a baseball stadium. You can't have balls going all over the place. Really, that's sad."

After a walk, Burnett recovered to retire B.J. Upton on an inning-ending popup, leaving the bases loaded.

"He made his pitches when he had to in that situation," Girardi said. "The interesting thing is that when Longoria hits that ball, you think you're out of the inning. Then you've got to turn it back on again."

Keeping composure has been a key for Burnett, who completed the seventh before Joba Chamberlain hurled the eighth -- allowing a Crawford RBI triple -- and Mariano Rivera closed out the ninth in a non-save situation. Posada said that Burnett commanded the strike zone well, setting up the win.

"I thought he had good stuff," Posada said. "He was in there, throwing strikes and being aggressive and attacking. That's all we can ask for. I thought he was great. He really shut them down after the first inning and did a lot of good things."

The Yankees touched Tampa Bay starter James Shields for two runs in 5 1/3 innings. A-Rod walked and scored on a Curtis Granderson double in the second inning, and Shields allowed a double to the final batter he faced, Robinson Cano, before Posada homered off left-hander Randy Choate.

Granderson later scored in that frame on a Lance Cormier wild pitch, Rodriguez stroked a two-run double off the left-field wall in the seventh and Swisher wielded a heavier 34-ounce bat as he belted his first homer in the eighth.

As the Yankees donned their travel shirts and ties, there would be plenty to be pleased with as they headed to sleep in their own beds for the first time in seven weeks.

The season-opening trip to Boston and St. Pete saw them bounce back twice with series victories after dropping openers, and winning sets is something they can be happy with, especially to open the schedule.

"To come in to play a team like Boston to open up the season and then play the Rays right after that, these are two tough series," Swisher said. "I think that just shows where our focus is. We feel good, we've got a great team, and we've got guys off to hot starts. That's helping us out a lot."

Bryan Hoch 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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