You couldn’t really have asked for much more than Friday night’s game delivered: a tense pitching duel; Alex Rodriguez coming up big in what for him was a grudge match against his former skipper; a little bit of hit-batsman antagonism with Vicente Padilla, but everything kept safely below the waist; CC Sabathia coming up big and striking out his last man in the eighth; Mariano Rivera coming in to face Manny Ramirez, who had an RBI single and a dropped fly ball earlier in the game, and striking out the side to pick up the save with no margin for error in a 2-1 win. It won’t get better than that, so I hope you all stayed up for it.
In fact, with A.J. Burnett on the mound this evening, things could get a lot worse in a hurry. Burnett has gone from poor to awful in June, providing a counterweigh to Sabathia’s strong month by going 0-4 with a 10.35 ERA in four starts while allowing nine home runs in just 20 innings pitched, inflating his season ERA by a run and a half in the process. Part of Burnett’s inconsistency is that you don’t expect his struggles to last long, either, but it seems as though each of Burnett’s starts this month has been worse than the last (not exactly true, but close), and with Dave Eiland on leave for a personal matter there are some have begun to wonder if Mike Harkey isn’t up to the task of getting Burnett back on track, while others, including the general manager, are wondering if Burnett is tipping his pitches.
To make matters worse, the pitcher opposing Burnett this evening, Hiroki Kuroda, is just the kind of crafty, off-speed groundballer prone to giving the Yankees fits. Even if he wasn’t, his success this season speaks for itself (3.06 ERA, 2.92 K/BB, career-best 7.1 K/9). In stark contrast to Burnett, Kuroda has been aces in his last three starts, the last two of which have come against the best offense in each league, the Reds and Red Sox, in those teams’ hitting-friendly ballparks. In total, Kuroda has posted a 0.95 ERA with 23 Ks in 19 innings against just four walks and no homers in those three starts (the third of which came at home against the Cardinals, who have some dangerous hitters themselves). That line works out to a 10.9 K/9 and 5.75 K/BB to go with that sub-1.00 ERA and 0.89 WHIP.
Jorge Posada, who fouled a pitch off his healing right foot last night but stayed in the game, gets the night off. Francisco Cervelli hits seventh ahead of Brett Gardner and Burnett. Curtis Granderson remains in the two-hole. Nick Swisher bats sixth.
The good news is that, if the Yankees do drop this game, as it seems they’re likely to do, it sets up a hell of a rubber game on ESPN tomorrow night with the Dodgers’ young lefty ace Clayton Kershaw facing off against veteran southpaw Andy Pettitte, who thus far is having his finest season as a Yankee at the age of 38. Well, that and the fact that you won’t have to stay up ’til 1am to watch the carnage tonight.