In a rare turn of events, I didn’t take a swipe at A.J. Burnett’s reliability in my preview of Sunday night’s finale at Fenway. Burnett was a key contributor to the Yankees’ 27th world championship in his first year with the team and had gotten off to a strong start in Year Two (4-0, 1.99 ERA entering last nights game). I was finally beginning to soften on the guy.
Then, with a chance to push his team into first place following a Rays loss earlier in day (to a perfect game by Dallas Braden, of all people), he shows up on the hill at Fenway without his fastball command and coughs up nine runs in 4 1/3 innings, setting the Yankees up for a 9-3 loss.
After dominating the Red Sox in his walk year with the Blue Jays, Burnett gave up 22 runs in 12 2/3 innings across three starts at Fenway Park last year, but in his first game of 2010, which also came in Boston, he pitched relatively well, allowing just four runs, three earned, in five innings as his team won 6-4. Sunday night was 2009 at Fenway all over again.
To be fair, Marcus Thames helped the Sox get on the board for the first time in the second by misplaying a catchable Jeremy Hermida fly ball that would have been the third out of the inning, taking a bad route, then having the ball glance off his glove for a two-base error that allowed J.D. Drew to score. Then again, Drew was in scoring position after singling and moving to second on a wild pitch by Burnett, and though Hermida’s drive was catchable, it was struck well and did require Thames to retreat toward the warning track in left.
Thames’s day wasn’t quite as bad as Burnett’s, but that error was ugly, he went 0-for-3 with a hit-by-pitch at the plate, and after his inning-ending strikeout in the fourth, he got his manager ejected by starting an argument with homeplate umpire Tim McClelland over the called third strike.
The Sox did the bulk of their damage in the third, loading the bases on walks to Marco Scutaro and Kevin Youkilis sandwiched around a Victor Martinez double. With one out, Drew scored Scutaro with a sac fly. David Ortiz then hit a ground-rule double to deep rightfield that plated Pedroia. Youkilis had to hold at third because the ball hopped into the stands, but he and Ortiz both came around on Adrian Beltre’s subsequent double, and Jeremy Hermida, who later drove Burnett from the game with a two-run homer over the Green Monster in the fifth, singled home Beltre to put the Sox up 6-0.
Nick Swisher and Alex Rodriguez got two back with solo homers over the Monster in the bottom of the third, but that was all the Yankees were able to get against Boston starter Jon Lester, who struck out seven and allowed just two other hits in his seven innings of work.
If there was a positive to this game, it was the 3 2/3 innings of one-hit relief provided by Romulo Sanchez, who not only pitched well, but finished the game for Burnett, saving the rest of the bullpen. Then again, with Sergio Mitre and Javier Vazquez starting the next two games, it would have been nice if the Yankees could have saved Sanchez for one of those two games.