AJ Burnett was one of four Yankee pitchers who exceeded expectations in the first half. I covered many of his starts and found most of them to be well pitched, even though they were almost all losses. He sped out of the second half gate and straight into the gutter with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia tonight prompting every Yankee fan to look up Ubaldo Jimenez’s velocity charts on Fangraphs. Even though they already scoffed at the asking price yesterday. For the record, while it would be a lot to trade Montero, Nova, Banuelos and Betances for Ubaldo, I admire the heck out the Rockies for having the restraint to not ask for Lou Gehrig’s bones in the deal.
Whether or not the Yankees pull off a trade this summer, and whether or not they get a nice surprise from one of the young arms in the minors, I think we’ve just seen the beginning of winter. If you’re a fan of A Game of Thrones, you’ll know the Stark family is fond of reminding everybody that “winter is coming.” In terms of the Yankees, I’m not at all saying their season is over or that they can’t rally past Boston for some kind of title this year, just that winter is coming as sure as the calendar says so and when it gets here, CC Sabathia is going to rule the Seven Kingdoms and beyond.
I have followed the Yankees for so long and in all that time, they’ve never had a guy as good, as healthy and as consistent as CC Sabathia. Has any Yankee had three years in a row this good since Guidry from 1977-1979? Moose had three good years to start his tenure in New York, but I don’t think his best was as good as CC’s best. In two and half years he has made himself utterly indispensable. I can’t imagine the Yankees going forward without him. Luckily, I can’t imagine the Yankees letting him go either. But with every stinker from AJ and the rest, CC’s payday grows.
Tonight AJ revealed the stink with a quickness. After being staked to an early run, he allowed the first four men to reach. It looked like he would escape with only two runs when he caught a two-out chopper behind the mound, but instead of taking a half-step to set himself for an easy toss, he hurried a “throw” past Teixeira while wheeling and whirling. A third run scored. A T-Rex could have made a better throw, and I’m talking about the fossils on Central Park West.
The score was 4-1 when the Yankees rallied off Tampa starter Alex Cobb in the fifth. Teixeira singled to cash in Gardner’s lead off walk and Robbie Cano looked dangerous representing the go-ahead run. Then the power went out at that crappy stadium and ruined the at-bat. When he finally got back in the box fifteen minutes later, the rookie regrouped from his only real jam of the night and retired Cano to end the threat.
Just at that time, Baltimore took a lead on Boston for thirty seconds, hell froze half-over and dogs and cats considered mutual respect before the natural order sped to reassert itself. Boston tied the game before Baltimore could record an out.
Burnett continued to be hot garbage into the sixth. He ended up allowing eight hits and six walks and looked every bit as bad as that line suggests. But thanks to a bail-out from Hector Noesi, the score was somehow stuck at 4-2 when he hit the shower. Shower as long as you want AJ, some odors are stubborn. (Apparently he got into it with a fan behind the dugout. I think the fan was mad that AJ didn’t invite him out to run the bases; everybody else in the stadium had had a chance.)
The Yankees brought the go-ahead run to the plate again in the seventh, but Mark Teixeira struck out looking on a close pitch. The replay showed the pitch clearly outside, but with the game on the line, if you leave it up to the umpire on a close pitch, you have to live with some bad calls.
Around this time, dogs and cats rekindled their age-old feud in earnest and the Red Sox blew the game open in Baltimore. Pedroia has raised his slugging percentage 100 points in about 15 games and somewhere along the way lapped Cano in bWAR (4.9 to 2.7).
The Yankees rallied again in the eighth, this time they meant it. Brett Gardner singled off Kyle Farnsworth to make it 4-3, but there was no chance to score Russell Martin from second. The bases were still loaded for Eduardo Nunez and he went up hacking under the pressure. It looked like a bad idea as he grounded a potential double play ball to short. But there was Brett Gardner, all over the second baseman with wonderfully tough slide to destroy the pivot. The game was tied. Derek Jeter swung at balls four and five and whiffed to end the inning, but it was sweet to get to Farnsworth for the first time this year.
While the Yankees assaulted the lead, the bullpen held the line admirably. David Robertson backed up Hector Noesi and both were excellent. Robertson especially so, as he set down the top of the Tampa order in the blink of an eye. The Rays sent out Alexander Torres to make his Major League debut. He was called up because they used nine pitchers the night before in the 16-inning loss to the Red Sox.
The rookie allowed a lead off single to Granderson, but recorded the next two outs. With Granderson on third, Joe Maddon had Torres walk Swisher. I noticed the intentional balls were fluttering to home plate – he was not comfortable. The last one bounced. David Cone and Ken Singleton were all over it as well and they wondered if the nerves might be getting to Torres. Whatever the reason, he ended up walking the next two men as well, and forced in the go-ahead run. Give credit to Jones and Martin for beautiful at-bats, but I can’t support a manager asking a guy making his Major League debut to intentionally put a base runner on in the ninth inning of a tie game. Brett Gardner did his best to draw another walk, but Torres finally found the zone and escaped the jam without further damage.
Mariano Rivera came in to face the heart of the Rays order in the ninth. And, well, you know how that story goes. It was over before I had a chance to get nervous. I was amused and offended by BJ Upton’s angry reaction to getting punched out. The pitch was placed so perfectly, broke so late and so hard, that he just should have been proud to be part of that moment. Like being photgraphed by Richard Avedon or something.
The teams combined for 16 walks and 17 hits, so it was quite a slog, and maybe it wasn’t a good game, but it was a great win for the Yanks, 5-4. And hey, if you consider the Rays’ bullpen was shot from the night before, the Yanks owe this victory to the Red Sox.