Tuesday, November 3, 2009

AJ Produces A Dud, So It's Back To N.Y.

The Yankees needed A.J. Burnett to be great, just like he was in Game 2.

Instead he spit the bit, producing one of the worst starts in World Series history.

Making matters worse, Phil Coke was just as ineffective as the Yankees dropped Game 5 of the World Series 8-6 to the Phillies in Philadelphia Monday.

The Yankees still lead the best-of-seven 3-2 as the series shifts back to Yankees Stadium for Game 6 Wednesday with Andy Pettitte going on three-days' rest against the man who would be king, Pedro Martinez.

But with a chance to close out Championship No. 27 and cement a reputation as a pitcher who can handle New York, Burnett came up oh so small.

He allowed a three-run homer to Chase Utley before he could even record an out in the first. It was as start similar to the Game 5 of the ALCS against the Angels, when Burnett allowed four in the first without recording an out.

At least in that game, Burnett settled down and allowed the Yankees to mount a comeback. In this game, he couldn't even do that, allowing walks to Utley and Ryan Howard to start the third inning before Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez singled to drive in runs to end Burnett's night.

It was an ugly start and the first time this postseason a Yankees starter failed to go at least six innings.

Burnett ended up allowing six runs on four hits and four walks in 2+ innings. It was the shortest World Series start since Game 1 of the 2005 World Series, when the Astros' Roger Clemens left after two innings because of a strained hamstring.

Some will point to Burnett pitching on three-days' rest as the cause of his awful start, but I don't buy it. Burnett has started on short rest and performed well. He's also started on full rest and been just as bad (see Game 5 of the ALCS).

The simple fact of the matter is Burnett is not a reliable starter. He can be great or he can be terrible, and as result of that inconsistency he'll never be anything nothing more than a No. 3 starter at best. You just throw him out there and hope you get the good A.J.

Monday, the Yankees got the very bad A.J. and paid.

David Robertson followed Burnett and stabilized the game, allowing a run to score on force out by Carlos Ruiz as the Yankees found themselves trailing 6-1 after three.

It was a night, though, that had a promising start as the Yankees jumped on Phillies ace Cliff Lee and took a 1-0 lead in the first. Johnny Damon hit a one-out single and scored on Alex Rodriguez's two out double.

But Lee settled down after that, allowing just one runner in the next three innings. Lee was strong, but not nearly as dominant as he was in Game 1, when he held the Yankees to one unearned run.

And when the Yankees pushed across a run in the fifth, it looked as if they might be able to claw their way back into this game.

Eric Hinske pinch hit for Robertson and drew a one-out walk, moved to third on Derek Jeter's single and scored on a groundout by Damon to make it 6-2.

Meanwhile, the Yankees bullpen was doing the job as Alfredo Aceves came on to pitch two scoreless innings.

Then Coke entered to start the seventh.

For the Yankees to have any hope in this game, they needed their relievers to keep the Phillies off the board.

While the offense was struggling to score runs off Lee, it was make him work. Through seven innings, Lee had thrown 103 pitches and was tiring. In addition, closer Brad Lidge had thrown 30 pitches the night before, making him a risky play for the Phillies.

Instead Coke, a lefthander, failed to do the one thing the Yankees were counting on him to do: get the Phillies' big lefties out.

Utley led off by blasting his fifth homer of the series to tie Reggie Jackson's single-series record. Coke rebounded to strike out Howard and get Werth to fly out to center, but he couldn't finish the inning without any more damage.

Ibanez followed by crushing another homer to right to make it 8-2 and put the Yankees in a hole that would prove to be too deep to escape.

It's a shame because the Yankees' bats did mount that rally.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel sent Lee back out to start the eighth despite his high pitch count. That turned out to be the opening the Yankees needed to get their offense going as Damon led off with a single and went to third on Mark Teixeira's double. And when A-Rod followed with his second double of the game to drive in two, Lee's night was done.

Lee ended up allowing five runs on seven hits and three walks, the fifth run scoring on Robinson Cano's sacrifice fly off Chan Ho Park, but that was good enough to escape with the win.

Manuel went with Ryan Madson to close out the the game in the ninth and protect an 8-5 lead, and for a second it looked as if Madson might melt down.

Jorge Posada led off with a double and went to third on Hideki Matsui's pinch single. Jeter, however, grounded into a double play to bring in Posada and make it 8-6, but that's as close as the Yanks would get as Teixeira struck out to end it.

It was an ugly loss, the stuff of nightmares. But it's just one loss. And this was going to be a difficult game to win, anyway.

Here's the reality: the Yankees are still up in the series 3-2 with two games to go at Yankee Stadium. And had I told you after Game 2 that the Yankees would win two games in Philadelphia, every Yankee fan would have signed up for that in a heartbeat.

Pettitte, who has won a postseason record 17 games, including a record five series clinchers, gets the call and he will deliver World Championship No. 27.

In Andy we trust. Count on it.

Runners In Scoring Position
World Series
10-for-35 (.286)
Game 5
2-for-8 (.250)
Game 4
4-for-11 (.364)
Game 3
3-for-7 (.429)
Game 2
1-for-5 (.200)
Game 1
0-for-4 (.000)
12-for-64 (.188)
6-for-17 (.353)
Regular Season
419-for-1,543 (.272)

Up Next
World Series Game 6
Wednesday vs. Phillies, 7:57 p.m., FOX

Martinez (5-1, 3.63 ERA; Postseason: 0-1, 2.08 ERA in 2 starts)
vs. Pettitte (14-8, 4.16 ERA; Postseason: 3-0, 3.24 ERA in 4 starts)

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