A.J. Burnett toed the rubber Wednesday night looking to extend the Yankees recent string of good starting pitching. The Yanks’ current five-game win streak had been fueled by a 5-0, 2.25 ERA run by “CC and the question marks” (Burnett was the last starting pitcher before the streak, and was coming off a horrible, winless July). They had also jumped out to early leads in most of those games, 23-2 in the first three innings of the last four games. In Gavin Floyd, the Bombers were facing someone who had gone 3-0 with a 0.81 ERA in his last three starts, and 2-1 with a 3.06 and 32 Ks in 35.3 innings in his last five games versus the Yanks.
Brett Gardner started the game with a perfect bunt on the grass near the third base line and then Derek Jeter followed that up with his own perfect bunt that stayed fair in the dirt portion of the third base line. (So when is the last time a team has started a game with two bunt singles? Anyone? Bueller?). After 90 total feet of singles, Curtis Granderson got badly jammed on a Floyd fastball, but muscled it out into short center, dunking it just in front of Alex Rios to put ducks on the pond.
Hot-hitting Mark Teixeira lofted the first pitch he saw to deep center for a sac fly, and Rios inexplicably tried to nail Jeter going to third. Jeter made it safely, and Granderson moved to second on the throw. The White Sox elected to pitch to, and not pitch around Cano with first base open, and he made them pay with a three-run shot to the right-field bleachers on an 88-mph cutter.
So Burnett had a comfy 4-0 lead as he took the mound. Juan Pierre led off with a line drive down in the right field corner that bounced into the stands for a ground rule double. Omar Vizquel then offered up his own bunt down the third base line that was moving from foul territory back fair. Eric Chavez tried to pick it up while it was still foul, but was too late, putting runners on first and third. Carlos Quentin lofted a sac fly to Gardner, and Burnett escaped the inning still leading 4-1.
The Yanks extended the lead to 6-1 in the second on a Gardner hit-by-pitch, a Jeter single to right and a Granderson double, all coming with two out, as Floyd’s breaking ball was sitting up in the strike zone and being hit hard. But Burnett was still not comfortable as he yielded consecutive one-out singles (both on 3-1 counts) to Rios and Alejandro de Aza. But he recovered to get Brent Morel to ground into a force, and Pierre to fly to center to end the threat.
New York decided to put Floyd out of his misery in the third as four of the first five batters reached base, including Chavez’s first homer as a Yankee, a 404-foot shot to right. Will Ohman came in and was no better, allowing a single to Gardner and a 2-run single to Jeter. After Granderson struck out, Teixeira lined a shot towards center field. Rios took a bad route to the ball (even though it was in front of him), and played it off to his left side. The ball bounced just in front of Rios, and skipped past his glove, rolling all the way to the wall. It was mysteriously scored a triple for Teixeira, and after Cano singled him in, the Yanks had a seemingly-Burnettproof 13-1 lead.
But the enigmatic and frustrating Burnett yielded five runs on five hits in the bottom of the fourth, capped by a Carlos Quentin three-run shot on a hanging curve. So the Jets led the Bears 13-6. Chicago drove down the field again the next inning, knocking Burnett out of the game after a single, a double and a hustling double by de Aza pared the lead down to 13-7. Joe Girardi walked to the mound, Burnett shoved the ball in Girardi’s hand, and A.J. then tore off his uniform top as he descended the dugout steps into the tunnel. Cory Wade put out the fire without any more runs scoring. Burnett’s final line: 4.1 IP, 13 H, 7 R.
Wade kept things quiet in the sixth, and the Yanks pounded former teammate Brian Bruney, and then Matt Thornton, for four more runs on five hits in the 7th to take the pressure back off. Jeter collected his fifth hit (and fourth run) of the night in the 8th as the Bombers tacked on another run, and the Yanks had an 18-7 win.
But the big question remains, “what to do with Burnett?”