NEW YORK (AP)—Kevin Brown had allowed Oakland to load the bases with no outs in the second inning and was on the verge of falling behind early yet again. When he started Keith Ginter out with a high fastball, Mel Stottlemyre went out to the mound.
“I told him that the way to minimize the damage was to keep the ball down,” Stottlemyre said.
Brown, according to the pitching coach, responded that Erubiel Durazo had just singled on a low pitch.
“I wasn’t going to argue with him,” Stottlemyre said. “I said: `He’s a lowball hitter. This next guy’s a highball hitter.”
In truth, Stottlemyre had no idea.
“I was lying,” he said, laughing. “He kind of stumped me.”
Brown wound up jamming Ginter with an inside pitch, getting an out on a soft liner to third baseman Alex Rodriguez. He struck out Eric Byrnes, threw a called third strike to Marco Scutaro, then escaped a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth. By the time Brown left after seven innings Sunday, the New York Yankees were on their way to a 6-0 victory over the Athletics.
Rodriguez hit a go-ahead homer, and slumping Hideki Matsui had a run-scoring single off Rich Harden (2-2). Tino Martinez added a three-run homer in the eighth off Kiko Calero and Jorge Posada followed with a solo shot into the upper deck.
New York (13-19) hit back-to-back homers for the first time this season and won consecutive games for the first time since April 24 against Texas and April 26 against the Los Angeles Angels.
Since owner George Steinbrenner’s critical comments about Stottlemyre were published Friday, Yankees starters have allowed just three runs, with New York pitching consecutive shutouts for the first time since Sept. 14 and 15 at Kansas City.
“Well, we’ve improved dramatically the last few days. There you have it,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said.
“Big improvement. You did a great job today,” Jeter told Stottlemyre, chuckling, as he left the clubhouse.
New York, which won its 900th game under manager Joe Torre, took two of three from the A’s, its first series win since a two-game sweep at Toronto on April 20-21 and its first at home since the opening series against Boston. Last year, the Yankees bottomed out at 8-11 in late April before sweeping a three-game series from the A’s.
To Torre, the series win was more significant than the milestone.
“The 900th should have come last month,” he said.
Brown (1-4), who lowered his ERA from 8.25 to 6.39, had lost a career-high seven straight starts since beating Toronto on Aug. 28, the first Yankees starter to drop that many starts in a row since Joe Page in 1944-45, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Coming off a horrible outing at Tampa Bay in which he allowed six runs in the first inning, Brown began with a warmup pitch that hit the backstop on the fly. It wasn’t until his 27th pitch that a batter (Ginter) swung and missed.
He didn’t think he pitched that much better Sunday.
“The biggest difference is I got a jam shot to the third baseman instead of a groundball in the hole,” he said.
Brown allowed five hits, struck out four and walked one, getting out of the fourth-inning jam when Scutaro flied out. Tom Gordon pitched a perfect eighth, and Tanyon Sturtze followed with a two-hit ninth.
“He was a different Kevin Brown today,” Stottlemyre said. “He seemed to be more sure of himself.”
All those losses had weighed on Brown, a perfectionist constantly critical of himself.
“Of course those things run through your mind,” he said.
Brown was given a lead for the first time this year when Rodriguez hit his 11th homer of the season leading off the fourth, just the second homer off Harden in six starts this season. New York added a run in the fifth on the single by Matsui, in a 2-for-20 slide coming in.
Oakland, beaten Saturday by Mike Mussina’s four-hitter, was shut out in consecutive games for the second time this season. The A’s, whose 108 runs are the fewest in the AL, have been blanked six times overall, the most in the majors, and have lost five of their last six games.
“We watched a tape of the last game Kevin pitched, against Tampa Bay, and they got on him early and he settled down after that,” Oakland manager Ken Macha said. “We had a chance to do the same thing. He was getting the ball up in the second inning. The line drive to the third, if it’s up over his head, or right or left, maybe we get some but we didn’t.”
Harden gave up five hits and four walks in seven innings, hit a batter and threw a pair of wild pitches.
“Harden is a handful,” Rodriguez said.
When Byrnes fouled out to Posada in the seventh, the catcher hit him in the chest when throwing his mask. … Oakland was shut out consecutively by the Angels and Chicago White Sox on April 19-20. … A’s starters are 5-15. … New York RF Gary Sheffield sprained his left ankle while catching Eric Chavez’s drive to right-center and caught the ball in a sitting position. Sheffield, also hit on an arm by a pitch, said he was OK.