Burnett Flirts With Greatness, Settles for Excellence as Stopper as Yankes Win 7-2

A.J. Burnett was brilliant tonight, especially through the first six innings as he had a no-hitter going against the same club that walloped the Yanks for 15 runs the night before.  After a hiccup in the seventh, allowing the Rays to tie it, the Yanks took back the lead in the eighth with a run, then exploded off Wheeler for four in the ninth to win a terrific 7-2 game.  Brett the Jet was enormous, going 3-5 with two doubles over the shallow-playing Crawford and Upton, two runs and a huge RBI in the ninth.  Nick Swisher cranked a homer in the fourth right after Garza buzzed his tower, and Jeter belted a three-run shot to right center in the ninth to salt it.

Now THAT was a game worth watching, and I’m glad I did at The Sommer Frieze.

Things started well but could have been better for the Yanks in the first.  Brett the Jet singled, Jeter followed suit to right to put runners at the corners, and Teixeira’s walk had Garza on the ropes.  But Swisher K’d for the first out.  Jorge’s sac fly scored The Jet, 1-0 Yanks, and Cano’s humpback liner to short meekly ended what had been a prime threat.

Thankfully, Burnett brought his A+-game, fanning Upton and Longoria in the first, working around his walk to Burrell with two more K’s in the second and, by the end of the 1-2-3 third, amassing a mere 39 pitches and working into an infectious groove.

Swisher led off the fourth, and while I don’t know if Garza or other Rays took exception to Swisher’s on-the-mound smiles and rolling the ball into the dugout after fanning Kapler last night, it fed speculation in the YES booth, for Garza buzzed his tower on a 1-1 pitch.  After a strike evened the count, Swisher crushed a thigh-high fastball on the inner half to deep right center, 2-0 Yanks.  It was great to see Garza blow his stack at the mistake that Swish deposited, cussing like a drunken sailor as Swisher circled the bases with his fourth home run in the first eight games, then worked himself up into a frothy verbal lather as he trotted back to the dugout.  Swisher has absolutely carried the Yanks the first eight games, and I love every minute of it.

Burnett kept the Rays in check with another 1-2-3 fourth, punctuated by throwing more up than in to Longoria before setting him down with a 94-mph fastball painted over the outside corner for the secound out.  He then embarrassed Navarro with an array of sliders and power curves for a K in the bottom of the fifth, requiring all of nine pitches, then pitched a masterful sixth, getting both Iwamura and Upton looking with 93 on the black–sit down! At that point, there was no question that everyone watching was thinking no-no.  There wasn’t anyone or anything but stray sunflower seeds, spit, and empty cups within 15 feet of Burnett on the bench, and I sat and chinwagged at The Sommer Frieze in rapt attention.

Things came apart for a stretch in the bottom of the seventh when Crawford broke up the no-hitter with a single to left.  Longoria then singled to left, and Pena’s RBI single to right put runners at the corners and cut the lead in half, no outs.  Burrell’s sac fly tied the game, but Burnett seemed to regain his bearings–with some crucial help from Molina, who called a whale of a game. Burnett got Navarro looking with a back-door fastball tailing back over the inner half for the second out, then Molina the Magnificent made a snap throw to first to pick off Pena–great play, with a nod to the heads-up Teixeira for being ready and applying a convincing swipe tag.  That settled things down.

Brett the Jet then looped a double over Crawford playing shallow in left that, with but one bobble, would have have been three.  Jeter blooped a single just past Iwamura to put runners on the corners for Teixeira, who deserves lots of praise for belting a big sac fly, the game-winning RBI to left center batting righty against the lefty Howell, 3-2 Yanks.  Hitting right-handed has been a problem for Teixeira, but he came through big despite the pain in his left wrist.  Burnett worked an easy 1-2-3 eighth on ten pitches, ending a great night–8 IP, 3 hits, 2 runs earned, 1 walk, 9 K’s on 103 pitches/67 strikes.  Tremendous hardly does Burnett justice for giving nearly everyone in the bullpen a blow, for coming up with the most important and best start of the young season right after Wang was at his worst.  Burnett was again the stopper, a third ace when the team needed him most.  It was a valiant effort, and the team made it count in the ninth.

Cano crisply lined Wheeler’s first pitch to left for a single.  In as a defensive replacement for Nady, Melky singled through the hole to right.  Pena was robbed of a double by the smooth, fleet-footed Upton in left center.  Molina fanned on three pitches for the second out.  But Brett the Jet came through again, pasting a hanging change to deep center, over the shallow Upton and bouncing off the track and over the wall for an RBI ground-rule double, 4-2 Yanks.  It hurt for the moment because Melky would unquestionably have scored, but The Jet’s rocket did the damage nonetheless, a clutch hit and, to that point, maybe the biggest of the young season to give the Yanks much-needed insurance in a tight, tense game.  Yet The Captain made it academic, taking a 2-2 belt-high fastball on the outside corner well over the fence in right center for a three-run shot, 7-2.  Huge hit for The Captain, who had a big day himself.  Bruney was dominant, striking out the side in the ninth.

Offensively, the top of the order was the difference, with The Jet and Jeter combining to go 6-10 (3 hits apiece) with 4 runs (3 for the Jet), and 4 RBIs (3 for The Captain, 6 on the year).  Gardner is at .296, Jeter at .265.  The action from the top was long overdue.  What more can one say about Swish?  2-4 with a solo shot, his fourth and his 11th RBI, batting .458.  AL Player of the Week, hands down to me.  Posada drove in his 9th and Teixeira his 3rd with a sac fly apiece.  Cano was 1-4 (.367) with a run, Nady 1-3 (.286).  Kudos to Melky for his seeing-eye single and run in the big ninth-inning rally.  The Yanks were 3-9 with RISP, stranding five.

Two brief points on the hitting today, especially on The Jet and the Rays’ relievers.  First, Gardner twice did what we long urged that puffed-up thong-wearing Giambi to do–try to keep the defense honest by steering the ball where they aren’t.  Gardner twice made the Rays pay for playing him shallow, thus sending the message to them and other teams that he has a bit of pop and, with a slight adjustment, could probably adjust accordingly should they play him shallow by driving the ball.  He took what the defense gave him, a huge difference in the outcome of the game that directly led to runs; great hitting.  The second recalls, if immodestly, what I mentioned before the season about the Rays’ relievers.  I questioned just how effective Howell, Wheeler, and Balfour will be this year after all three clicked last year for unusually effective seasons.  The Yanks touched up both the lefty Howell and especially the righty Wheeler.  As soon as I heard the YES announcers say that Wheeler didn’t allow a hit or run to the Yanks in five appearances last year, I thought right away, not this season.  They’re good relievers, but good luck replicating that kind of success individually and as a unit this year.  I didn’t see it happening before the season, and I sure didn’t see it happening tonight.  Wheeler just can’t be too available to hit, and he seems to lack some velocity on his fastball.  Jeter really made him pay.  Good.

But A.J. was the story with his brilliant start.  He was in total command, dazzling with the slider and curve that neither lefties nor righties could tough, and a fastball in the mid-90s that was at the knees, painting the corners, and crackling.  It was outstanding, and I was just riveted, outdueling Garza who was terrific himself.  Thus far, worth every penny. Molina deserves an awful lot of credit for calling a great game, and Burnett hardly shook him off.  They were in a great rhythm, as Cone noted when Burnett shook off Molina just by looking at him, steering Molina’s call from a curve to a fastball–for a strike.  I wondered in the run-up to the game if there might be something going with Molina working with Burnett, and I’d be shocked if he wasn’t behind the plate for Burnett’s next start.  Combined with his clutch pick-off of Pena in the seventh, Molina is a tremendous asset, I’d say definitely the best defensive catcher I’ve seen for the Yanks in a long time.

Lefty (1-0, 1.29 ERA) gets Sonnanstine (0-1, 9.64 ERA) in the rubber match that ends the Yanks’ longest road trip ever to start the season before heading home to christen the new Stadium Thursday.  After everything that has transpired thus far–3 terrible starts at the top of the rotation taxing the bullpen, Teixeira’s sore wrist, a slothful bottom third of the order, JD with the flu, a lineup not clicking at once yet, a blown game in KC–coming back to The Stadium 5-4 on the road would be fine with me.  Play hungry, guys.  Great win tonight.

[Edit: But perhaps at a cost for, according to Pete Abraham, Nady hurt his right elbow, on which he had Tommy John surgery in 2001.  Apparently he felt a “sharp pain” in his elbow when he threw the ball back after Pena’s RBI single, and is slated for an MRI.  Not good news and, while Swisher is the obvious choice to fill in, that banks on Teixeira’s being ready to go full-tilt, and would require a call-up if Nady should land on the DL.  Tough news, and hopefully Nady is not out too long if at all.  How much more important can the acquisition of Swisher be thus far this year?]

Published in: on April 14, 2009 at 11:07 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. my favorite game so far jason. this is just the kind of thing we’re looking for- an ace performance and a team that fights back with timely hitting. I didn’t know you guys were the frieze…was chatting with nick. lets hope they bash sonnenstine into the ground. Longoria is out for two days withn a family issue. i hope everything is alright with him, but i’m sure andy won’t miss his bat today!!

  2. oh by the way–i like gardy hitting 1st.

  3. the mighty abe just stole your moniker brett the jet.

  4. Same here on The Jet leading off, Mike. The guy makes things go, and last night was proof positive.

    On hanging at The Frieze, it just sort of unfolded that way. I had a rough, stressful day and didn’t plan to watch much of the game, but wanted to relax a bit before working. Then, with Burnett on a roll, got caught up in both the game and his no-hit bid. For the first time in a while, I had that wound-up feeling from being fully immersed in a tense game. It was great, especially after the Yanks put it away in the ninth. Lots of fun.

    That Pete Abe better fetch himself a lawyer!

  5. Find me someone who will complain about last night’s game, and I’ll show you someone who probably has no clue what baseball even is. That was a hard-battled game for a while, Garza wasn’t giving much up. We broke out there at the end, but AJ kept us in it as long as he could.

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