Saturday, June 27, 2009

Delivering On A Promise

“I’m not very consistent right now. I’m not a negative guy, so I’m not
going to beat myself up over it. But when I do get on that run, it’s going to be impressive. I promise you that.”

--A.J. Burnett after pitching 2-2/3 innings in a 7-0 loss to the Red Sox
June 9

A.J. Burnett promised he would turn it around. He knew his performance, not just for that loss to the Red Sox, but for the season to that point was unacceptable.

He was 4-3 with a 4.89, and was not pitching like the guy who won a career-high 18 games with the Blue Jays last season, earning him a big, fat contact with the Yankees.

He also promised to be impressive.

He undersold on that promise because over the his last three starts, he's been beyond brilliant.

Burnett followed CC Sabathia's dominant performance Friday and an even better one Saturday, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth and combining with two relievers on a one-hitter in a 5-0 victory over the Mets at Citi Field, the suddenly resurgent Yankees' fourth straight win.

Over his last three starts, Burnett has gone 2-1, allowing two runs, one earned, on 10 hits and 10 walks, while striking out 26 over 20-1/3 innings, improving his record to 6-4 with a 3.93 ERA.

That dominance was on full display Saturday as Burnett walked just three and struck out a season-high 10 in seven innings, hitting 96 mph with his fastball and throwing 64 of 108 pitches for strikes.

“He was absolutely tremendous," Nick Swisher said. "That just goes to show
how electrifying he can be. Topping out at 95- 96-miles per hour; a [curve]
that you can’t even see, let alone hit. He was on point tonight. I know he
needed that.”

The Mets had no clue what was coming. Burnett's overpowering fastball set up a dominant curve and a very effective change.

"I’ve just trusted my stuff more," Burnett said, "not try to paint the inside or
outside corner, just let my fastball work and put people away."

The only issue for Burnett, as usual, was his control. In the second Burnett issued a one-out walk to Gary Sheffield and a two-out walk to Jeremy Reed, but Brian Schneider popped out to first to end the inning. That would be the only time the Mets got a runner as far as second.

And the defense provided Burnett with plenty of support, including two terrific running catches by Melky Cabrera to rob David Murphy of hits in the second and fifth.

The only thing that separated Burnett for his second career no-hitter was Alex Cora's leadoff single. Cora, who had been hitless in 21 career at-bats against Burnett, laced a curve into center in the sixth.

"I’m not one of these guys who’ll tell you I didn’t know I had one,"
Burnett said
. "I knew it from the first inning. From the fourth inning on, I
was pretty much shooting for it. When you see guys running around, diving like
that, it makes you go harder."

The Yankees' pitching has thoroughly dominated the injury-ravaged Mets. Sabathia allowed one run on three hits in seven innings Friday night and for the two games, the Mets are being outhit by Brett Gardner, 5-4.

In the five games played between the teams this season the Yankees have outscored the Mets, 40-15.

And though the Yankees didn't need much offense Saturday thanks to Burnett, they still provided plenty, even though Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon were out of the lineup because of a severe cold.

Swisher gave Burnett all the support he'd really need with a one-out homer in the second, but the offense made sure to put away the Mets and starter Tim Redding in the sixth.

Mark Teixeira doubled with one and scored on Alex Rodriguez's single. A-Rod has now driven in 11 runs in his last six games after driving in only nine in the previous 22.

Robinson Cano followed with a double to put runners on second and third and Jorge Posada removed any doubt about the outcome of this game by crushing a curve over the fence in left-center for a three-run homer, giving the Yankees a 5-0 lead.

Brian Bruney and David Robertson pitched the eighth and ninth.

Oh, and by the way Francisco Rodriguez, you wanted to know who Brian Bruney is. Well, he's the guy who just retired your team in order on seven pitches in the eighth.

So the Yankees head into the finale of Subway Series having already won the season series with Mets for the first time since 2003.

But this is no time to rest.

The Yankees have an opportunity here and must seize it.

They've gotten consecutive dominant performances from their two, big, free-agent pitching acquisitions. Together with Chien-Ming Wang they were supposed to be the Big Three to anchor the rotation.

Wang, of course, is having a disastrous season at 0-6 with a 11.20 ERA. He has, however, been much, much better over his last two starts and is starting to show the form that allowed him to win 19 games in consecutive seasons.

Sabathia and Burnett are starting to fulfill their promise this season.

Wang has a chance to the same by getting that first win of the season tonight and hopefully turning his year around.

And if that happens, the Yankees will be poised fulfill their promise.

Runners In Scoring Position
2-for-5 (.400)
180-for-687 (.262)
Since A-Rod's Return May 8
114-for-415 (.275)
Vs. Red Sox
11-for-82 (.134)

Up Next
Sunday at Citi Field, 8:05 p.m., ESPN
Wang (0-6, 11.20) vs. Livan Hernandez (5-2, 4.05)

In six career starts against the Yankees, Hernandez is 0-3 with a 6.94 ERA. The offense should be able to provide Wang with plenty of support.

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