The first two games of the series at Camden Yards — the last series the Yankees will play against American League competition for a few weeks — did little to hold the interest of even the Yankees, it seemed. The Yankees believe they will win every game, while the Orioles, a once proud franchise, have become a team that is only “Major League” in name, to paraphrase Vin Scully. As WFAN’s Steve Sommers put it on the Wednesday Schmooze, “You know who’s going to win, it’s just a matter of what the final score will be.”
Yet amid an air of seemingly unfailing predictability, there’s AJ Burnett. In his last two starts he plowed through the Indians’ lineup and then ran into the Blue Jays’ home run machine. The O’s should have been the perfect elixir to get him back on track. Except that with Burnett, in a season and a half of watching him closely, we’re unable to discern that there is a track.
In the first inning, Burnett’s numbers read as follows:
2 R, 2 H, 2 HBP, 2 K, 2.00 WHIP.
Great poker hand, terrible pitching line.
But these were the Orioles, so there was still a sense that the Yankees would come back and win this game without issue. Either that, or the Orioles would find a way to botch things and hand the game in the Yankees’ favor as they did Wednesday night.
The Yankees did come back and held the lead for a couple of innings, scoring one in the second and two in the third off Jake Arrieta, who was making his Major League debut. Meanwhile, Burnett, as difficult as he made things look in the first inning, pitched in innings 2-4 as if he knew the Orioles were an inferior club. He was aggressive in the strike zone and his curveball was as nasty as it’s been all season. That ended in the bottom of the fifth, when Scott Moore lofted a “get-me-over” fastball into the third row of the right-center field seats to tie the game.
The Yankees came right back in the top of the sixth. Mark Teixeira led off with a double and Ramiro Peña — more on his appearance later — sacrificed him to third. It was then that Juan Samuel finally exhibited a sound managerial tactic. He intentionally walked Robinson Canó, who had collected seven hits in his first 12 ABs in the series, to get to Jorge Posada, who was 3-for-28 to that point. Why Teixeira didn’t tag and score on Posada’s fly ball but Canó was able to advance to second, I’m still scratching my head. An intentional walk to Curtis Granderson put Marcus Thames up with the bases loaded against the rookie Arrieta. With nothing to lose except another game, Samuel left Arrieta in there to allow him to pitch out of the jam. He fanned Thames, and was rewarded for his efforts. A fly ball to right off the bat of Luke Scott that Nick Swisher should have caught was turned into a triple, and the next batter, Adam “I’m not Pacman” Jones, ripped a double to right to give the O’s the lead.
Burnett escaped the sixth without any further damage, but the lead was lost.
The Yankees put a runner in scoring position again in the seventh, but Francisco Cervelli, the beloved Gazoo, struck out to end the threat. It was the last time the Yankees would advance a runner as far as second base for the remainder of the game. The Yankees’ offense, after Tuesday’s 12-run explosion, mounted just seven runs over the last two games at Camden Yards.
Burnett was lifted in the seventh after giving up consecutive two-out singles to Nick Markakis and Ty Wigginton. Damaso Marte and Chan Ho Park retired each of the four batters they faced to clean up the mess.
The 4-3 loss Thursday night didn’t cause the Yankees to lose any ground in the standings. The Rays and Red Sox both lost as well. But this game, watching it, getting frustrated — again — at the inability to push runners across with less than two out, was the type of game that despite the mediocre effort by Burnett, the Yankees should win. Burnett knows he has to be better. He has as many wins in his last eight starts as he did in his first five. If you had to re-order the Yankees rotation at this point, Burnett might come third or fourth, behind Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes.
Burnett’s next turn in the rotation comes against next Wednesday against the Phillies, where he’ll oppose his former teammate, Roy Halladay. Which AJ will show up then? Does he even know?
Alex Rodriguez was removed from the game before his first at-bat in favor of Ramiro Peña. A-Rod, who has been nursing a sore groin, failed to move to his left to attempt to field the ground ball that ended up as Adam Jones’s RBI single in the first inning. Several published reports say he had a flare-up of the original groin injury.
Peña was hitless in his stead. After he returned to the dugout, the YES Network cameras showed him heading toward the clubhouse with his helmet off, which prompted my mother, a devout Yankee fan who’s visiting this week, to notice him and say, “Who’s that? He looks like Ray Romano.”
THANKS FOR PLAYING, CHAD
Everyone knows that Chad Moeller is a goner when Jorge Posada is able to catch again. But Moeller, a proud veteran and former every day player, doesn’t need to play like it. After a passed ball tonight and mounting just two hits in his limited action, the end is likely now.
BIRTHDAYS AND ANNIVERSARIES
* Former YES Network colleague Ken Singleton turned 63.
* Marcus Thames made his debut eight years ago.
* Tomorrow night, June 11, the Yankees open a three-game set against the Houston Astros. Seven years ago to the day, six Astros pitchers no-hit the Yankees to set a MLB record for most pitchers to combine on a no-hitter. Roy Oswalt started the game and lasted just 1.1 innings due to a pulled groin. Peter Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner did the rest (Thank you, Retrosheet). Munro made it interesting in his 2.2 innings, walking three and hitting a batter (Thank you again, Retrosheet). It was the first no-hitter pitched against the Yankees since Baltimore’s Hoyt Wilhelm did it in 1958.