20 October 2010

Don't Make Burnett the Goat in Yankees Loss to Rangers

The only thing that could have made last night worse for New York was another successful terrorist plot.

OK, so that's a bit of a stretch, but seriously, last night was really a drag.

The Yankees took an early lead in Game 4 of the 2010 ALCS when Robinson Cano hit his third homer of the series in the second inning, making it 1-0. Two batters later, things seemed to be going well for New York when Lance Berkman mashed a Tommy Hunter fastball deep into the upper deck in right field, which would have made it 2-0. The umpires reviewed and overturned that decision, though, calling the ball foul, and almost nothing has gone the Yankees' way since.

Well, that's not precisely true either, but these are dramatic times.

AJ Burnett gave up two runs in the top of the third inning, despite the fact that the Rangers never hit the ball out of the infield. A walk, a wild pitch, a hit batter, a bunt, a fielder's choice grounder, a dribbler to third base on which Alex Rodriguez couldn't make a play, and suddenly the Yankees were down 2-1. This was exactly the kind of thing that seemed to rattle Burnett and throw him off his game during the regular season, but he got another grounder to end the inning and limit the damage.

The Yankees came right back in the bottom of the third and tied the game, but couldn't plate any more runs. They did manage another run in the fourth, but only one, even though they had the bases loaded with only one out. Perhaps the worst blow of the night came when Mark Teixeira pulled a hamstring running out a grounder, resulting in an injury that will keep him outof the rest of the playoffs.

Burnett pitched two and two-thirds more innings without giving up a run, and looked like he was on the cusp of redemption when he allowed a three-run homer that Bengie Molina accomplished with his remarkable patience and textbook power swing.

No, wait. I mean he was lucky.

Burnett had allowed a lead off single to Vlad the GImpaler (TM)*, who was forced out at second on a fielder's choice grounder by Nelson Cruz. Cruz then advanced to second on a deep fly ball out to center field, which left first base open. So they walked David Murphy (.847 OPS against right handed pitchers in 2010, about the same as his career mark) to get to Molina who hit just .213 against them this year and has only a .680 OPS against them in his career.

Seemed like a good move, and even leaving Burnett in to face one more batter doesn't strike me as a terrible idea, since he'd thrown only 97 pitches to that point, and it had been 17 days since his last start. But Burnett missed his target though, which was low and away, and his fastball went up and in to Molina, who smacked it just over the left field wall.

People will tell you that this was a mistake on Burnett's part, and certainly that's true. But look, if you throw a ball 92 mph in on a guy's hands and he hits it out of the park, maybe we should just tip our caps to him and give him credit for a job well done. Not every hit or even every homer happens due to a pitcher's mistake, you know? Even mediocre major league hitters are major league hitters.

In any case, that homer seemed to take the life out of both the Yankees and their fans, symbolized by nothing better than the image of Alex Rodriguez, in his crouch waiting for the pitch, dropping his head in disappointment without even turning around to see the ball sail out of the park.

The Yankees went down in order in the bottom half of the 6th inning as well as the 7th. Texas refused to reciprocate though, scoring two more runs in their half of the 7th on a homer by Josh Hamilton (I think his ribs are probably healed...) and a bloop single by Ian Kinsler with two men on.

The rangers tried to give back a little in the eighth, using three different pitchers to walk the bases loaded with only one out, but the Yankees just couldn't come up with a big hit to close the 7-3 gap. The Rangers then showed them how it's done in the ninth inning, when Josh Hamilton hit another homer, his fourth of the series (Yep, the ribs are definitely OK!) and then Nelson Cruz hit his 4th, also off Sergio Mitre. That made it 10-3, and that's where the score stayed as the Yankees couldn't capitalize on Brett Gardner's leadoff single in the ninth.

They're down three games to one in the ALCS now, which, while not impossible, is a pretty unlikely position from which to mount a comeback. In the 75 times in MLB history a team has been down 3-1 in a seven game series, only 10 teams have come back to win, but that's still less than a 15% chance.

Most fans will look no further than the "L" next to Burnett's name in the box score and the five runs he gave up and assume that Burnett had yet another terrible outing, but really he was perhaps one mistake away from escaping with a 1-run lead and six innings of effective work. Most of us would love to make only one mistake for every 97 things we try in our lives, but Burnett may have run himself out of town with his.

But Boone Logan failed to do his job for the second night in a row. Mitre gave up three runs on two homers in only one inning. Yankee hitters left 18 men on base. There was plenty of blame to go around last night, so let's not turn Burnett into the goat simply because it's easy and convenient and we need a put a face on our frustration.

In any case, even if CC Sabathia pitches well tonight, the Yankee bats need to manage more than two runs against CJ Wilson. Also, both teams might want to invest in some pitchers with actual names, instead of just initials. I'm just sayin'.

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