08/30/08 12:03 AM ET
Pavano puzzles Jays as Yanks roll
Righty gives up three hits; Mariano records five-out save
By Bryan Hoch / MLB.com
Making his second big league start of the season and just his fourth since July 2005, Pavano fired six effective innings and the Yankees finally managed to beat A.J. Burnett in edging the Blue Jays, 2-1, to open a three-game weekend series on Friday night.
It was a snapshot that few thought possible; Pavano walking off the mound in the Bronx to a loud ovation after throwing a strikeout pitch to end the sixth inning. Injury-plagued over the course of his tenure, Pavano logged his second victory since rejoining the Yankees and said he cannot dwell on the missteps that have dogged him.
"I still have to look ahead," Pavano said. "I'm 32 years old and I'm still young enough that I can pitch for a few more years. That's one of my goals. Reflecting on that doesn't really help me or the team. To tell you the truth, it's just easier for me to turn the page."
Fighting for their playoff existence, the Yankees are more than ready to embrace Pavano's help, needing a victory to remain six games behind the Red Sox in the American League Wild Card chase. Having been beaten three times already by the hard-throwing Burnett, New York made the most of what they could get.
"Every game counts," Bobby Abreu said. "We can't think about tomorrow. We just go out there and have to throw everything we have and win the game, no matter what."
With Pavano getting away with a few high fastballs and letting his defense do much of the work, the Yankees broke through in the fourth. Johnny Damon opened the inning with a single and stole second base before Abreu went with a pitch to lace one-out double up the gap in left-center.
After Alex Rodriguez -- a late arrival in the Bronx after battling hours of Labor Day traffic -- legged out an infield single, Jason Giambi tacked on a sacrifice fly to left, scoring New York's second run and giving him four of the club's last five RBIs.
It was all the Yankees could muster against Burnett in an eight-inning, eight-strikeout effort, but the Toronto righty's innings would go for naught because Pavano made the two runs hold up.
Appearing for the 21st time since signing his $39.95 million contract before the 2005 season, Pavano's last Yankee Stadium start came on Opening Day 2007. His campaign would last only one more game before hitting the shelf en route to Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery; the win was his first in New York since April 26, 2005.
"It's been trying times, for sure," Pavano said. "But it's not the only time in my career I've gone through adversity. Obviously the biggest thing is not having been here for my teammates. A lot of these guys don't even know me because I haven't been around the team that much."
Pavano's velocity, catcher Ivan Rodriguez admitted, is not quite back to where it was in Florida, where the two formed a battery that helped take the Marlins to the top of the baseball world.
But with the Yankees desperately needing starting pitching, the righty was able to face one batter over the minimum through five innings before the Blue Jays finally touched him for a run in the sixth. That was all Toronto would get.
Manager Joe Girardi was a bench coach with the Yankees in '05, when Pavano's sordid tale began to unravel. He complimented Pavano's work ethic to get back after his various struggles, but said that he could not pause to consider what might have been, had only Pavano been able to stay on the field.
"I don't ever look at the past," Girardi said. "You look at, what can he do for us in the next six weeks? He's 2-0 for us, and that's a pretty good start."
Girardi called upon Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte -- much improved after a bout with fatigue -- to combine in retiring the Blue Jays in the seventh inning. But the recently-struggling Jose Veras ran into trouble in the eighth, allowing a double and a walk.
Edwar Ramirez was summoned to strike out rookie Travis Snider, who was making his big league debut, and with each game now taking on a semblance of a must-win atmosphere, Girardi went to what would likely be his October M.O. out of the bullpen.
With five outs left, the manager called upon Mariano Rivera, asking what would be just Rivera's third five-out save of the season -- one day after Rivera recorded four outs to log a save over the Red Sox, and the sixth time in Rivera's last eight appearances he has pitched more than an inning.
Girardi did not dispute the idea that he was using his bullpen as though the postseason was already upon the Yankees.
"That's the situation that we're in," Girardi said. "I'm not going to abuse him. I'll never abuse a pitcher. Hopefully there are some days that we score a lot of runs and we don't have to use him, but the last two days we've had to use him a lot."
Rivera retired Joe Inglett on a fielder's choice and struck out Marco Scutaro -- an old nemesis from last April 15 at Oakland -- to put the Yankees back in the dugout, and then pitched around a single in the ninth inning to record his 32nd save.
"You have to prepare yourself for the situation," Rivera said. "If you throw one inning it's OK, one out, it's OK. But if you have to throw four or five outs, that's OK too. Regardless of what you do, we have to give an opportunity for the team to win."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.