NEW YORK – A.J. Burnett has made things difficult for his manager all season. This time, he was happy to do it.
Burnett had his most impressive start in three months and Jorge Posada hit a two-run homer, leading the New York Yankees to a 6-2 victory over the bumbling Boston Red Sox in the opener of Sunday's split-doubleheader.
"I just wanted to come out and give him a headache. I've given him headaches all year," Burnett said. "Why not give him a good headache?"
The Red Sox rallied for a 7-4 victory in the nightcap, behind Jacoby Ellsbury's three-run homer off Scott Proctor (0-2) in the 14th inning.
"We might need some innings out of him just because of this crazy game tonight," Girardi said. "We'll have to look at that."
Hughes understood the decision even though he's been starting all year.
"I've done it before, and I'll help them any way I can," said Hughes, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 12.
Burnett (11-11) allowed five hits — three to Ellsbury, including two homers — in 7 2-3 innings, his first outing of more than six innings since he went eight on July 29. He was 0-4 in his 10 previous starts against Boston but was in control throughout this one.
"I thought his command got better and better and he just kept making good pitches," Girardi said. "I'm very pleased with his outing, very pleased with the job he did."
Booed relentlessly nearly all season, the tattooed right-hander left to a loud ovation in the eighth. After receiving a high-five from his catcher and a pat on the back from Girardi, Burnett thrust his right arm in the air in acknowledgment of the cheers.
With an ERA that swelled to 5.28 coming in — second-worst behind Brad Penny among qualifying starters — Burnett seemed out of the competition for a playoff start.
Was this outing enough to change that?
"We're going to continue to look at it and talk about it," Girardi said. "And our opponent has something to do with who we're going to pitch."
Derek Jeter had three hits in the opener to lift his average to .300 at the end of a game for the first time since April 2. Starting with July 9, the day he reached 3,000 hits, he is batting .346 following a .257 start. He didn't play in the night game.
"I'm not playing for a batting average," Jeter said. I'm playing to try to stay sharp for the playoffs."
Having secured home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs, the Yankees will open the division series at home on Friday night.
Sloppy in the field again, the Red Sox fell behind early for the second straight day. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia had an error and a passed ball in a two-run first inning. In the fifth, he had the ball kicked out of his mitt by Jeter, who was trying to score from second base on Alex Rodriguez's single.
The Yankees finished 6-12 against Red Sox this season.
Wakefield pitched four-plus innings, giving up five runs — three earned — five hits and five walks.
David Robertson got four outs to finish, twice stranding a runner on second. Hitters are 0 for their last 22 against him with runners on base, according to STATS.
Girardi was able to rest his regulars, saying before the game that looking toward playoffs he has to be smart with his players.
Batting fourth for the first time since 2009 because of his experience against Wakefield, Posada connected in the third inning for his fifth homer against the knuckleballer. The 40-year-old with a diminished role this year, hit cleanup for the first time in two years and was given a curtain call on the last day of New York's regular-season home schedule.
Brett Gardner opened the Yankees' first with a bunt single and stole a base, drawing a wild throw from Saltalamacchia. Jeter bunted safely and Gardner moved up.
Gardner scored when Saltalamacchia fumbled the ball for an error as he tried to pull it out of his oversized mitt and make a quick throw with Jeter stealing second.
After Rodriguez grounded out, Jeter advanced to third on a passed ball. Saltamacchia had a shot at nailing Jeter at third but his throw was wide of the base. Jeter scored on a wild pitch from Wakefield.
"It's frustrating," Wakefield said in a nearly silent clubhouse. "We can't seem to catch a break. Certain things happen in an inning and it snowballs from there."
NOTES: The Yankees held a brief ceremony before the game to honor Mariano Rivera for becoming the career saves leader Monday. ... Girardi said he can't "envision a scenario" where top prospect Jesus Montero isn't on the postseason roster. ... Yankees LHP CC Sabathia threw 65 pitches in a simulated game in preparation for his start Friday in Game 1 of the division series. ... Hector Noesi will start Monday and Bartolo Colon on Tuesday for Yankees against Tampa.