PREFACE: Writing a game recap on the Sunday of the Masters Tournament is not the easiest thing to do for a golf nut like myself. I guess that’s what DVR is for. Not knowing what I should watch sandwiched between my daughter’s naps and my wife’s grading schedule, I decided to record both. I zipped through the Yankee game first and then caught up to the goings-on at Augusta National later on. Deadlines are deadlines…
The YES telecast was odd. The pregame show featured a segment with Michael Kay and Tino Martinez venturing into the stadium and dissecting key points to the game from a couple of empty seats. This being the first YES game I’ve seen this season, I don’t know if this is a one-off experiment or a regular feature to break up the previous formula of keeping the broadcasters off camera and filling that spot with video (B-roll). If you’ve read my work here for the past three seasons, you know I like to watch the games on mute — an old habit from my days working at YESNetwork.com — so this feature was even more hilarious with Tino Martinez moving his mouth and having no sound come out. Based on the reviews, that’s not too far from what happens with the sound on.
The new graphics and layout look clean and are clearly tweaked for HD. The pitch counter is a nice addition to the bug in the upper left-hand corner. That bug has also been condensed so that it doesn’t extend across the entire top border of the screen.
The question heading into Sunday, as it seems to be every time A.J. Burnett takes the mound, is “Which guy will show up?” The first inning featured the version we’ve come to sort of expect, going back to last October: 21 pitches, two runs allowed, two hits, a walk, only one first-pitch strike to the six batters he faced. His weakness in holding runners played a factor into the two runs scored, as both Jason Bartlett and Carl Crawford stole second to set the table for the Rays’ lead. Bartlett took advantage of Burnett throwing an off-speed pitch, while Crawford just beat a bang-bang play on a pitch-out, which featured a strong throw from Jorge Posada.
Rays starter James Shields, although he may not possess the explosive stuff of Burnett — or implosive, depending on the day — does have similar foibles. Mainly, Shields is prone to falling behind early in the count and opening up innings for the opposition. The Yankees adhered to that scouting report in the second inning, when A-Rod led off with a walk and three batters later, Curtis Granderson ripped a 3-1 fastball into the right-field corner to cut the deficit to 2-1.
The meat of the order — A-Rod, Robinson Canó, Jorge Posada and Granderson — forced Shields into a similar predicament the next time around in the fourth inning. But after A-Rod led off with a double and Posada walked with one out, Granderson and Swisher stranded them both to kill the rally.
Burnett, on the other hand, found his rhythm after hiccuping his way through the first inning. He retired 10 straight batters from the point when he walked Evan Longoria in the first and B.J. Upton in the fourth. He fired first-pitch strikes to nine of those 10 hitters. Pat Burrell’s leadoff single in the fifth — the first hit allowed by Burnett since the first inning — came on a 2-0 count.
The bottom of the fifth inning may have been the turning point of the game: Burrell, who was running on 2-and-1 as part of a hit-and-run, got hung up near second base when Dioner Navarro lined to Granderson in center. Granderson, after making a nifty sliding grab off his shoelaces, fired a neat one-hop throw to Mark Teixeira at first to complete the double play. Grandy fittingly ended the frame one batter later with an over-the-shoulder catch in the right-center field gap off the bat of Sean Rodriguez. Those two plays made Joe Girardi’s decision of Grandy in center and Gardner in left look s-m-r-t smart.
As the game developed more of a personality during the middle innings it felt like one area of the Yankees would eventually feed off the other, provided both the offense and defense remained patient. The dam broke in the top of the sixth. When Canó drilled a one-out double into the right-field corner to send Shields to the showers in favor of Randy Choate, I thought, “Game Over. Now I can watch The Masters.” Three pitches later, Posada launched one about a dozen rows into the left-center field seats to confirm my theory.
I was going to go to picture-in-picture or throw on the Masters recording entirely until I remembered Burnett was pitching, and turning away could adversely affect this write-up. So I stuck with the game. Glad I did, because Burnett nearly barfed up the lead by loading the bases with two outs. Burnett pitched out of it by forcing Upton to pop out.
Naturally, the Yankees kept pummeling the bullpen. Jeter led off the seventh with a single and stole second, Tex worked a walk, and A-Rod drove them both in with a ringing double off the left-field wall. Nick Swisher’s home run in the eighth was additional insurance.
Speaking of the eighth, the move to pull Burnett seemed curious to me, considering that he was still retiring batters with relative ease. At this point, I turned the sound on to see what Kay, Tino and Paul O’Neill would say about Burnett’s effort. Kay made a big deal about Burnett having only one strikeout. “A strange line,” he said. Tino and O’Neill went into detail about Burnett how strikeouts can take up more pitches, but after the first inning, complimented how well Burnett spotted his fastball and made due without his best curveball.
“Who cares if the ball’s put in play?” O’Neill said. “Ground balls are good things. Saves pitch counts, gets you through seven.”
Tino’s response: “Maybe he’ll pitch to contact more and think, ‘I don’t have to strike everybody out.’”
What neither of them mentioned was that it was Burnett proved he could pitch and not just throw. He succeeded without his best stuff. If there’s a sign of encouragement from Burnett’s start, that’s it. His outing was a solid follow-up to C.C. Sabathia’s near no-hitter, and served as a perfect segue to Andy Pettitte’s turn in tomorrow’s Home Opener.
The 7-3 victory gave the Yankees consecutive series wins on the road against their two most difficult division opponents. And they won without everything clicking. At 4-2, the sample size of six games isn’t enough to see how the rest of the season will bear out, but they are in excellent position heading into this week’s homestand against the Angels and Rangers. The signs are there for this Yankee team to be very dangerous and perhaps even impervious to long losing streaks. That’s especially true if the top three starters continue the upward trend, and Mark Teixeira’s offense picks up, they’ll be in excellent position far beyond next week.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Granderson. The RBI double and the strong defensive plays. He made it look very easy. Having seen him for less than a week, it’s clear he’s one of those players who you can’t appreciate his skills unless you watch him play every day.
* Burnett held the Rays to a .200 batting average (3-for-15) with one RBI, one strikeout and a walk when throwing first-pitch strikes. The Rays hit .429 (3-for-7) with two walks and a sacrifice when Burnett threw a first-pitch ball.
* The Yankees batted .071 (1-for-14) with five strikeouts when Shields threw first-pitch strikes. They batted .500 (3-for-6) with two walks and an RBI when Shields threw a first-pitch ball.
* Rays’ Bullpen line for Sunday: 3.2 IP, 5 H, 5 ER, BB, K, 12.26 ERA.
* The Yankees’ 4-7 hitters went 6-for-15 (.400 BA, .867 SLG) with 5 RBIs, 4 runs scored, and two walks.
* Mark Teixeira, although he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, saw an average of 6.4 pitches per at-bat. He’s only batting .125, but the last two days gave the impression that he’s not far from breaking out of his slump.
IT’S NOT IRONIC, IT’S JUST GOOFY BASEBALL STUFF
* B.J. Upton made the last out in each of his four plate appearances.