Mentor Halladay schools protege Burnett as Jays beat Yankees

TORONTO - They were teammates and rivals, and later teammates and friends.

TORONTO - They were teammates and rivals, and later teammates and friends.

During their three seasons together with the Toronto Blue Jays, Roy Halladay taught A.J. Burnett how to harness his vast skills, how to think the game, how to pitch.

In turn, Burnett taught Halladay that it was OK to let up a little bit between starts, OK to make room for some fun, OK not to be single-minded in focus every single day.

But Halladay was always the mentor and Burnett always the protege, and on Tuesday night when they met as opponents for the first time they reminded everyone exactly why.

Halladay shut off the hype of their matchup and an electric crowd of 43,737 to focus in and methodically dissect the New York Yankees, while the Blue Jays capitalized on a bout of Burnett's trademark wildness in a three-run fourth for a 5-1 victory.

It was as brilliant a night of baseball as Toronto has seen in a long time, and the game lived up to every last bit of its billing.

"This is what you play the game for, matchups like this," manager Cito Gaston said before the game.

Halladay (7-1) was better than dominant in his first complete game this season, Scott Rolen hit a key two-run double and Aaron Hill homered as the Blue Jays won their third straight, doing it against Burnett (2-1), the pitcher who spurned them over the winter by opting out of the final two years in his US$55-million, five-year deal, eventually reaching an $82.5-million, five-year agreement with the Yankees.

His departure, combined with long-term injuries to fellow starters Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum, was supposed to bring down the Blue Jays and herald a new return to power in the Bronx.

Instead, about one-fifth of the way through the season, it's the Blue Jays (23-12) standing tall in the American League East, 6 1-2 games in front of the Yankees (15-17), and looking very legit in their first meeting with an elite division rival.

Fans weren't placated by that, booing Burnett vehemently from the moment he took the field and greeting him in the first inning with a deafening chant of "A.J. Sucks! A.J. Sucks!"

The volume of boos was boosted by a massive walk-up crowd, as pre-game reports suggested an audience of ranging between 23,000-27,000. Lines at the ticket offices were still spilled onto the street as Halladay took the mound and the Rogers Centre continued to fill as the game progressed.

And unlike other years, when travelling Yankees fans swelled the ranks, this crowd was decidedly pro-Blue Jays.

With Burnett replacing Alex Rodriguez as Public Enemy No. 1, the building exploded in the fourth when Rolen's chopper double down the third-base line scored a pair - A-Rod was playing well toward short, presumably because the Yanks didn't believe Rolen could pull Burnett - and Rod Barajas followed with a sacrifice fly an out later.

Walks to Vernon Wells and Adam Lind after Alex Rios opened the frame with a double set up the decisive three-spot.

The roar was even louder in the eighth, when Hill's solo blast to left made it 4-1 and it was repeated when Rolen singled home Rios later in the frame to knock out Burnett. There was a massive cheer as manager Joe Girardi pointed to the bullpen and fans booed Burnett until he disappeared into the dugout.

Halladay, meanwhile, faced the minimum 18 batters through six on an astonishing 56 pitches before getting touched up for Rodriguez's RBI single in a 24-pitch seventh. That was the only inning when he seemed less than invincible, and even that only last for a moment.

He came back to zip through the final two frames, leaving Scott Downs, who will remain the team's closer even after B.J. Ryan's possible return this weekend, warming idly in the bullpen.

In all Halladay allowed just the one run on five hits, striking out five in his first complete game of the season. Burnett last 7 2-3 innings, giving up five runs on seven hits and four walks while striking out three.

Notes: Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said the team was still deciding if and how to readjust the rotation once injured starters Casey Janssen (right shoulder) and Ricky Romero (right oblique) return from injury, possibly this weekend. Janssen allowed one run over six innings with five strikeouts in a rehab start for double-A New Hampshire on Tuesday, while Romero starts for the Fisher Cats on Wednesday. ... Yankees SS Derek Jeter is day-to-day after being removed from the lineup because of a sore right oblique. Manager Joe Girardi hopes Jeter can play Wednesday. Ramiro Pena took Jeter's spot in the lineup. ... Yankees OF Hideki Matsui left the game in the fifth inning with tightness in his right hamstring and is day-to-day. ... Walter Gretzky was in the crowd.

 
 
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