ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Ian Kennedy's 20 friends and family members could scarcely stand to watch while the New York reliever's first appearance in over a year went from an inspiration to a budding nightmare.
Thanks to a bases-loaded fly ball, Kennedy and the Yankees could enjoy a much-needed series victory that sent them into a big weekend series with plenty of momentum.
In his first major league appearance since surgery to remove an aneurysm below his right biceps, Kennedy walked two batters and hit another in the eighth before escaping on Erick Aybar's fly. His misadventures and ultimate redemption were the wildest portion of six New York pitchers' efforts to hold down Los Angeles' offense.
"Just to be pitching is an accomplishment," said Kennedy, a Long Beach, Calif., native and former USC star. "And then to be pitching here, and in a big situation, there are no words to describe it. It got a little crazy, but I was glad it worked out barely. These are big, important wins for us."
The Yankees, eliminated by the Angels in the first round of the playoffs in 2002 and 2005, lost 18 of their last 23 games in Anaheim before winning back-to-back games in less than 24 hours. The Yankees also won a series for the first time since sweeping Tampa Bay in early September, moving back to a season-high 41 games above .500 (97-56).
"You need every one, but obviously going to the playoffs, you want to feel good about yourself," Burnett said. "These two teams battle each other. That lineup they have makes you work. It's a good series, and good for our confidence if we match up with them later on."
On Tuesday night, New York became the first major league team to clinch a playoff berth. If the Red Sox lose Thursday, New York would clinch the AL East title by winning two of three in a weekend home series with Boston.
"We told [Kennedy], you're the guy we want out here right now," Girardi said. "Go out and get the job done, and that's what he did."
Gary Matthews Jr. and Bobby Abreu drove in runs for the Angels, who didn't help their faint hopes of catching New York for the majors' best record. With another day of abnormally poor situational hitting, Los Angeles dropped 6½ games behind the Yankees with three losses to New York in the last 10 days, including a makeup game at Yankee Stadium last week.
The Angels struck out a season-high 15 times while going 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position. Typically a model of small-ball opportunism, Los Angeles stranded 25 runners in the last two games.
"Hitting with runners in scoring position is something that's really got us this last month," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We went from a team that was setting the table, putting the ball in play, getting our share of hits with guys in scoring position and scoring runs, to a team that's really been down near the bottom this month. It's the same cast of characters, but some guys are obviously struggling with some things and not squaring balls up as well as they can."
Burnett (12-9) didn't make it out of the sixth inning, allowing seven hits and three walks, but his strikeout total was one shy of his season high. Gearing for a start in Game 2 of the playoffs, he is 2-5 with a 5.40 ERA in 11 starts since the beginning of August.
Scott Kazmir (9-9) made another solid start for the Angels, but failed to win for the fourth time in five outings with his new club, which has given him just eight total runs of support. The left-hander yielded six hits and three walks over six innings, but allowed five straight Yankees to reach base in the decisive fourth.
Mark Teixeira started New York's rally with a one-out double, but Juan Rivera threw him out at the plate from left field on Shelley Duncan's sharp single to right. Cano then drove home Hideki Matsui and Duncan, and Cabrera added another double.
"I just felt like there were situations where I needed a certain pitch in a certain location, but I just didn't have it, and it cost us the game," Kazmir said. "I had Cano [with] two strikes and was looking to expand the zone a little bit with the fastball, but it kind of stayed middle-in and he got the hit."
Angels 1B Kendry Morales struck out four times. ... Yankees C Jorge Posada sat out after X-rays came back negative on his bruised right foot. Girardi isn't sure he'll play Friday against Boston. ... Kennedy went 1-4 with a 6.14 ERA in 13 games with the Yankees from 2007-08, including 12 starts, but last pitched for New York on Aug. 8, 2008, also at Los Angeles.