Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Picking Up Burnett

The Yankees haven't built the best record in baseball at 84-48 by relying on just one aspect of the team.

Since the All-Star break the Yankees have won 32 of 43, and much of that has been built on solid pitching.

But occasionally, the Yankees have had to get it done with the bats.

Tuesday was one of those days.

Nick Swisher and Eric Hinske hit back-to-back homers in the seventh, part of a five-homer attack, to bail out A.J. Burnett in a 9-6 victory over the Orioles in Baltimore. The Yankees remained 6-1/2 games ahead of the Red Sox, their magic number for clinching the division dropping to 25.

Burnett was brutal, allowing six runs on 11 hits and two walks in just 5-1/3 innings. He struck out two and threw 70 of 109 pitches for strikes, but had absolutely no command. He had no clue where the ball was going, often missing Jorge Posada's target by a good foot.

Let's be clear: Posada's game calling is not the issue here. It's never been the issue. This is all about Burnett and his ability to execute pitches consistently both within a game and from start to start.

Tuesday Burnett could not even protect a lead. After allowing a homer to Felix Pie in the first, Burnett couldn't hold onto a 3-1 lead in the third, allowing Melvin Mora's two-run single, and the couldn't make a 5-3 lead in the fifth stand up, allowing a three-run blast to Luke Scott.

Burnett does not have win since July 27, going 0-4 with a 6.54 ERA in the seven starts since. He has had some good moments in that span -- the 2-0, 15-inning victory over the Red Sox -- and a number of bad moments.

In short, he's in a slump. All players go through peaks and lulls during a season, and the key in Burnett's case is not to panic just because the Yankees are entering September and steaming toward the playoffs. Slumps end and that can happen rather quickly. There is plenty of time for him to get right and we have to remain patient.

In the meantime, if the Yankees continue to get offensive performances like the one they got last night, they'll be able to whether Burnett's bad stretch. And with 207 homers so far this season, there is little double that the offense is more than capable.

Tuesday it picked up Burnett at every opportunity.

After the Orioles grabbed that 1-0 lead in the first, Robinson Cano quickly put the Yankees in the lead with a two-run homer in the second. Posada made it 3-1 with a homer in the third, the first of two homers in what was a strange night for him. He twice lost track of the count while he was batting.

Posada then gave the lead again in the fifth with a two-run shot to left, and it seemed as if the Yankees were poised to finally seize control of the game.

But Burnett was in a giving mood, and after Scott's homer, the Yankees found themselves trailing 6-5.

That deficit was short-lived as Alex Rodriguez singled in Melky Cabrera with the tying run in the sixth, setting the stage for Swisher and Hinske.

Cano led off the seventh with his 40th double of the season before Swisher demolished a first-pitch, 94 mph fastball and crushed it over the fence in right center.

It's been a strange season for Swish. On the road, he's been brilliant, hitting .283 with 20 homers and 52 RBI. At home he's at .200 with three homers and 20 RBI. It's totally inexplicable given how hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium has been. But on the road, Swish just seems to be constantly coming up with the big hits.

Hinske then followed with an opposite-field shot just over the wall in left to make it 9-6.

In case you missed John Sterling's home run call for Hinske it's, "Hinske with your best shot." Yes, a reference to the Pat Benatar song "Hit me with your best shot."

And I could swear that just after I heard Sterling's call, I heard a prayer go up from Red Sox Nation being directed to the Porcelain God.

And with Burnett out of the game, that was more that enough for a Yankees bullpen that has been terrific since mid-June.

Damaso Marte picked up the win by pitching a scoreless inning. David Robertson allowed one hit and struck out two in his inning before Phil Coke bridged the gap to Mariano River with a scoreless two-thirds of an inning.

Rivera allowed a hit in the ninth but picked up his 38th save -- 34th straight -- dropping his ERA to 1.78.

Call Ups
With the rosters expanding Tuesday, the Yankees called up relievers Michael Dunn, Edwar Ramirez and Mark Melancon, utility player Ramiro Peno and catcher Francisco Cervelli.

Runners In Scoring Position
Tuesday
2-for-10 (.200)
Season
331-for-1,232 (.269)
First Half
217-for-819 (.265)
Second Half
114-for-413 (.276)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
266-for-959 (.277)
Vs. Red Sox
36-for-163 (.221)

Up Next
Wednesday at Orioles, 7:05 p.m., YES
CC Sabathia (15-7, 3.56 ERA) vs. Jason Berken (4-11, 6.33)

Sabathia has vaulted himself into contention for the AL Cy Young Award with a strong August, going 5-0 with a 2.64 ERA in six starts. He'll look to continue that roll and complete the sweep of the Orioles.

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