DETROIT Before it turned into a complete blowout, A.J. Burnett made a statement Tuesday that he's not finished just yet.
Burnett contained the Detroit Tigers' bats for 5 23 innings on a night when his New York Yankees were on the brink of elimination.
Burnett vowed to "let A.J. loose," and he did it better than most believed possible based on how he had pitched during much of the regular season.
"I was proud of what he did," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "In a must-win situation, he pitched one of his best games of the year. We were all excited for him."
"He's the reason we have an opportunity to play on Thursday," shortstop Derek Jeter said of Burnett.
It looked a little shaky in the first inning when Burnett walked three batters before center fielder Curtis Granderson recovered in time to catch Don Kelly's line drive after misjudging the ball initially.
If Granderson, a former Tiger, didn't make that catch, it would have certainly given the Tigers a 3-0 lead, if not going for an inside-the-park grand slam.
Who knows whether Burnett would have even been around for the second inning, much less the sixth. The Yankees already had a pitcher warming up because of Burnett's early control problems.
Even the outcome of the game, a 10-1 Yankees' victory, might have been different, believe it or not.
"Curtis saved me," Burnett said. "We don't win that game without defense."
Said Granderson of the catch: "It was a low line drive, straightaway center field. It's a tough play to make. You don't know if it's going to fall in front of you or get some air underneath it. I took a step in and froze. Then it started to get some air. At least from my perspective, it kind of went up. I was like, 'Aw, man.'"
Moments later, the sellout crowd was uttering the same words as Granderson left his feet and reached up to make the catch, haunting his former team.
That play was just what Burnett needed to settle down. He allowed only one run and four hits before the Yankees' bullpen shut down the Tigers for the final 3 13 innings.
Burnett, 34, was supposed to be in the bullpen for this series because of his 11-11 record and 5.15 ERA, but a suspended game last Friday forced Girardi to change his original plan and go with Burnett to start Game 4 with the Yankees down two games to one.
Burnett said he was nervous and amped-up in the first inning.
"It was a big game," Burnett said. "Maybe it took me 25-30 (pitches) to get loose. It was a little nerve-wracking (with the bases loaded) in the first."
Burnett, whose curveball was baffling the Tigers' hitters at times, said he eventually took a simple approach.
"Just get the ball back and let it fly," he said.
Granderson is in his second year with the Yankees after being one of the most popular players in Detroit. He only had one hit in five at-bats Tuesday, but that hit was a run-scoring double to give the Yankees a 3-1 lead in the fifth.
Granderson also made a brilliant diving catch in left-center to rob Jhonny Peralta and likely save another run - for the final out of the sixth.
"That started just because of positioning," Granderson explained. "I felt he was a guy that was going to go ahead and hit the ball to the right-center gap. That's where I was shading him. Sure enough, he ended up hitting the ball to left-center gap. I ended up having to go a lot further for it. I looked at (left fielder) Brett Gardner. He wasn't there yet. So I decided to go ahead and lay out for it.
"The reason I was slow getting up, I ended up knocking the wind out of myself. I think I hit my head a little bit because I have a little headache afterwards."
In the end, it was the Tigers with the bigger headache. The Yankees exploded for six runs in the eighth inning off the Detroit bullpen to turn it into a laugher.
The series is all tied up going back to Yankee Stadium for Thursday night's winner-take-all Game 5.
"We fought all year to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs," Girardi said. "Hopefully, we can get it done."