Yankees 5, Athletics 1
NEW YORK (AP)—Kevin Brown thought he might be nearing the end of his career.
He spent the first two months of the season battling his body, perplexed by his performance. Then he spent seven weeks on the disabled list because of back spasms and an intestinal parasite that weakened him.
“You just can’t help but look over your shoulder and wonder,” he said.
Brown got his answer Thursday, when he pitched his best game of the season.
In his second start since coming off the disabled list, Brown threw four-hit ball over eight shutout innings to beat Oakland’s Barry Zito. Newly signed John Olerud went 3-for-3 with a two-run double on his 36th birthday, leading the New York Yankees over the Athletics 5-1.
“That’s the Kevin Brown we knew was in there somewhere, and he knew was in there somewhere,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said.
Brown (9-1) struck out seven and walked two as he matched the longest outing by a Yankees starter this season. Always his own biggest critic, Brown used the words pleased, happy and satisfied.
“I’m not 100 percent as far as strength and stamina,” he said, “but I’m a heck of a lot better.”
When he struggled, the 39-year-old right-hander at times wasn’t sure how much he had left.
“I want to leave the game, I don’t want the game to leave me,” he said. “That’s probably every player’s wish, to go out playing well and not have something happen that takes the game away from you.”
New York desperately needs him to pitch like an ace.
It was just the 10th time a Yankees pitcher threw eight innings, the first in 19 starts since Jose Contreras beat Detroit on July 15. New York starters entered with a 5.06 ERA, 24th among the 30 major league teams, and they averaged just 5.76 innings per start, 18th in the majors, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Even though the Yankees lead second-place Boston by 9 1/2 games in the AL East, Torre called it a big win.
“He was overpowering. His stuff was moving all over the place. Hs sinker was just unhittable,” catcher Jorge Posada said.
While the catcher usually sets the target, Brown became Posada’s bull’s-eye in the sixth inning. Chasing Jermaine Dye’s popup, Posada threw his mask into the pitcher’s stomach.
“I guess I was in the wrong spot,” Brown said.
Third baseman Alex Rodriguez wound up catching the ball. Posada had no idea his pitcher was there.
“I saw it on the replay—he’s got to get out of the way,” the catcher said.
Paul Quantrill allowed an unearned run in a hitless ninth on errors by Rodriguez and second baseman Miguel Cairo. Oakland, which lost for just the third time in 12 games, dropped into second place in the AL West, a half-game behind Texas.
Olerud, who had a double, two singles and was hit by a pitch, is 5-for-8 since signing with the Yankees on Tuesday, 11 days after Seattle decided to go with youth and released him following a subpar first half. Torre was confident Olerud would respond.
“You don’t lose it all of a sudden,” the manager said.
Signed because Jason Giambi is on the disabled list with a benign tumor, Olerud has worked with hitting coach Don Mattingly to lessen hip movement during his swing.
“It’s definitely a renewed focus,” Olerud said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
Zito (7-8), the 2002 AL Cy Young Award winner, also has struggled, having difficulty locating his big curveball for the past year. He had rebounded somewhat of late, going 3-0 after a six-start span in which he was 0-4, but he allowed five runs—four earned—and 11 hits in 6 2-3 innings against the Yankees.
“I think I made some good pitches that got hit,” he said. “Overall, I thought I threw pretty well.”
New York took a 3-0 lead in the second after left fielder Eric Byrnes dropped Rodriguez’s leadoff liner for an error. Hideki Matsui singled, and Ruben Sierra reached down for a breaking ball at the knees on the outside corner and pulled it for an RBI double.
“That play needs to be made,” Byrnes said. “This is the big leagues. I have to catch the ball.”
Olerud, 11-for-25 (.440) against Zito, followed with an opposite-field double to the gap in left-center. Derek Jeter added an RBI double in the fifth, and Matsui chased Zito with a run-scoring single in the seventh.
Yankees 2B Enrique Wilson has a bruised right shoulder from Wednesday night’s diving stop. An MRI was negative. … Gary Sheffield was kneed in the head by 2B Marco Scutaro on a double play but is OK, Torre said. … Posada took a foul ball off his right thumb, which was heavily wrapped after the game.