A.J. Burnett steps up against Tigers as Yankees force fifth game

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Craig did his best to talk everybody off the ledge this morning in regard to A.J. Burnett, but even the most optimistic among us had absolutely no idea what pitcher we were going to see tonight against the Tigers. Now that the dust has settled, it fair to say that the enigmatic right-hander exceeded all expectations.

Burnett allowed just one run over 5 2/3 innings while the offense provided plenty of support as the Yankees topped the Tigers 10-1 to force a deciding fifth game in the ALDS.

Burnett was good enough, throwing 49 out of 81 pitches for strikes while striking out three and walking four. He induced 10 ground ball outs. The first inning was almost a complete disaster, as he walked Victor Martinez to load the bases with two outs, but Curtis Granderson was able to make a leaping catch on a fly ball off the bat of Don Kelly to end the threat.

This was actually a 4-1 game before the Yankees exploded for six runs on seven hits off four relievers in the top of the eighth inning. Alex Rodriguez kicked off the rally with a single, snapping an 0-for-12 mini-slump in the series. The game took on a decidedly different tone from that point forward.

With the series now tied 2-2, the teams will play a deciding fifth game Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. Ivan Nova will be on the mound for the Yankees while Doug Fister pitches for the Tigers.

Notes

– The last time Burnett allowed one earned run or less in a start? June 13.

– Victor Martinez provided the only offense of the night for the Tigers, slugging a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the fourth inning. It was the first hit allowed by Burnett.

– While Curtis Granderson made a nice recovery to catch a ball he misjudged in the first inning, his diving catch to end the bottom of the sixth inning was even better. He skidded for about five feet on the Comerica Park grass after making the sprawling grab. The AL MVP candidate also had an RBI double in the victory.

– Rick Porcello allowed four runs on five hits while walking one and striking out five. He was hurt by leaving pitches up in the strike zone, which explains why he induced seven ground balls compared to seven fly balls. The 22-year-old right-hander has a 51.9 percent career ground ball rate.

– Wilson Betemit went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in the loss. Including the postseason, he has struck out in 39.8 percent of his at-bats since joining the Tigers.

– Jesus Montero had an RBI single in the six-run eighth inning and added another single in the ninth. The only other Yankees to get a postseason hit at 21 years old or younger? Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. No pressure, kid.

– 11 of the Yankees’ 13 hits tonight were singles.

– And we’ll leave you with this from our friend Joe Sheehan of SI.com: The Yankees haven’t won a deciding game (G5/G7) since the Aaron Boone game in 2003.

Steven Souza Jr. exits game after injuring his hand on a hit by pitch

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Rays’ right fielder Steven Souza Jr. left Saturday’s game after getting hit on the left hand by a pitch from Blue Jays’ right-hander Joe Biagini in the seventh inning. The pitch appeared to hit the top of Souza Jr.’s hand, causing the outfielder to crumple at the plate and requiring assistance from assistant athletic trainer Paul Harker as he exited the field. Postgame reports from the Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin revealed that Souza Jr. sustained a left hand contusion and is scheduled to undergo further evaluation on Sunday.

While the diagnosis isn’t as bad as it could be, it’s still a tough break for the right fielder, who missed 40 days of the 2015 season after sustaining a fracture in his left hand on another hit by pitch. The team has yet to announce any concrete timetable for Souza Jr.’s return, though manager Kevin Cash indicated that they’ll be taking things day to day for the time being.

Souza Jr. is batting .326/.398/.543 with four home runs and 17 RBI through 104 PA in 2017. He went 1-for-2 with a base hit and a walk prior to his departure during Saturday’s 4-1 loss.

Video: Brett Gardner goes deep for his first and second home runs of 2017

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It’s been a slow start to the season for Yankees’ outfielder Brett Gardner, who entered Saturday’s matinee against the Orioles with a .188/.316/.234 batting line, three doubles and five stolen bases in his first 76 PA of the year. That all changed in the first inning of Saturday’s game, when Gardner skied a leadoff home run to right field:

Orioles’ right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez couldn’t find his footing against the Yankees in the second inning, either. Gardner returned for his second home run of the season, a three-run shot to lift New York 5-0 over Baltimore:

Measured at 411 feet in the right field bullpen, the left fielder’s blast marked the seventh home run hit by a Yankee this series. According to the club’s PR department, it’s also the first multi-home run game Gardner has recorded since September 2015. The Yankees currently lead the Orioles 7-0 through four innings.