Sunday, June 14, 2009

Burnett Bounces Back

After getting rocked Tuesday in Boston, there was no way A.J. Burnett was about to give up a run.

He had put his team in a big hole in the series opener against the Red Sox, and they never recovered. He needed to make amends.

But spotted to a four-run lead Sunday, Burnett loaded the bases in the third on two walks and a single. A mistake would put the Mets right back in the game.

Instead Burnett bore down, striking out Alex Cora and Fernando Martinez before getting Carlos Beltran to line out to short, sending the Yankees on their way to an easy 15-0 victory over Johan Santana to take the rubber game of the Subway Series.

The Yankees also moved back to two games behind the Red Sox in the AL East.

"[Burnett] pulled that Houdini act and somehow got out of it," Nick
Swisher said
. "That just shows you how electric his stuff is."

For Burnett, it was quite a turnaround from his outing against the Red Sox, when he allowed five runs, three earned, in 2-2/3 innings and had no idea where his pitches were going.

That outing started the Yankees on a five-game spiral during which only one starter got past the fifth inning, and the staff failed to record a quality start or a victory.

Burnett breezed through the first two innings and the offense spotted him a 4-0 lead in the second on RBI singles by Francisco Cervelli and Derek Jeter and a two-run single by Johnny Damon against the Great Santana.

That should have helped Burnett to relax, but instead he seemed to lose a little of his focus and control. He walked David Murphy to lead off the third, allowed ground single to Brian Schneider and walked Luis Castillo to load the bases.

He was in trouble.

And figured out how to escape -- and did the Yankees ever need him to do that.

The recent spate of poor starts has taxed the bullpen. The Yankees needed Burnett to not only be effective, but go deep into the game. He did both, allowing four hits and four walks in seven innings. He struck out eight, threw his fastball for strikes, making his curve, slide and change more effective, and threw 66 of 111 pitches for strikes.

The only thing that prevented him from going deeper into the game was that stressful third inning, during which he threw 28 pitches.

Burnett also had the tall order of going against the Great Santana, which is never easy. The Yanks were 1-5 against him entering the game, their only victory coming last season.

And normally the recipe for beating a great pitcher is to pitch great yourself and hope to take advantage of the other team's bullpen.

But Santana wasn't himself on this day. His fastball was in the low 90s and he struggled to locate his slider. The combination made for the worst outing of his professional career, allowing a career-high nine runs on nine his and two walks in 3+ innings.

The Yankees really took it to him in their nine-run fourth.

Swisher led off with a walk and Hideki Matsui followed with a homer to make it 6-0. Matsui has hits in four of the last five games, including two homers. Also he's starting taking fly balls, preparing to play the outfield when the Yankees start a stretch of nine-game in NL parks, beginning Friday.

Melky Cabrera then continued the onslaught with a double, moving to third on Cervelli's single. Jeter then knocked out Santana with an RBI single, bringing in Brian Stokes.

Damon greeted Stokes with an run-scoring double and Mark Teixeira the loaded the bases with an infield single.

The Mets then nearly turned a triple play. Alex Rodriguez hit a sharp grounder to short and Cora tagged Damon, stepped on second an threw to first, but too late to get A-Rod, allowing Jeter to score to make it 9-0.

But the Yankees weren't done, yet. Robinson Cano crushed a two-run homer. Swisher and Matsui then walked and scored on a double by Cabrera, who ended the inning by getting thrown out a third, the second runner to get thrown out on the bases in the game.

The Yankees have had a number of runners thrown out on the bases or doubled off this week and it's starting become a cause for concern that Joe Girardi needs to put a stop to right now. This team can't afford to be giving outs away like that.

But by that point, the outcome was well in hand, the Yankees tacking on two more in the seventh on an RBI single by Ramiro Pena and a sacrifice fly be Cano.

It was an impressive offensive display. Jeter went 4-for-4 with two RBI; Damon 2-for-4 with three RBI; Cano 3-for-4 with two doubles, a homer and three RBI; Melky 2-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI and Cervelli 3-for-5 with the big RBI to jumpstart the offense.

But it all started with Burnett.

It's amazing how good this team is when it gets a well pitched game. The Yankees have won all 22 games in which they have allowed three or fewer runs. The problem is, they need to get that kind of performance more often that once every three games.

This staff has to become more consistent. It has to be better than it's been for the first 2-1/2 months and I still think pitching coach Dave Eiland has to go. He's not the guy to turn this staff around.

But I also hope Burnett's start is the start of something.

Of course, with the awful Nationals up next, it just might be.

Cut Out The Garbage
Brian Bruney and Francisco Rodriguez, I'm talking to you. Enough with this war of words. And what was with that pregame confrontation? Just shut up and let your performance do the talking.

Bruney, K-Rod has an annoying celebration. So what? So does Joba Chamberlain, Jonathan Papelbon and quite a few other pitchers. If you don't want to see the opponent celebrate, win. And K-Rod, grow up and be a man. Bruney wanted to apologize. Accept it a move on.

Geez, if we wanted to watch a soap opera, I'd turn on Desperate Housewives. This is baseball. Let's get back to it.

Runners In Scoring Position
9-for-20 (.450)
155-for-584 (.265)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
89-for-316 (.282)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Tuesday vs. Nationals, 7:05 p.m., Local TV (check your listings)
Shairon Martis (5-1, 5.04 ERA) vs. CC Sabathia (5-4, 3.68)

At first glance, it would appear Sabathia is set up perfectly to build upon Burnett's outing. Martis, however, is one of the few bright spots for the Nats. His five victories might not seem like much until you consider the Nationals have a total of a total of 16 wins.
And of course there is that issue of how the Yankees fare against pitchers they've never faced before (see Nieve, Fernando).
CC had better come out strong and seize control early. Don't let this team hang around and start to believe.

One more note about how pathetic the Nats have been. Adam Dunn has 17 homers and is the only player in the majors to have more homers than his team has wins.

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