Last night, YES’s Kim Jones asked both Johnny Damon and Joe Girardi if they felt this was a different team than the one which lost two games to the Sox (and then again to the Rays) back in early May. This was a pretty silly question. Of course they’re a different team. That’s part of baseball’s beauty: the team you see in April is not the same team you see in June, which is not the same team you see in the dog days. The Yanks pitching staff has turned a corner since then, and they’ve been one of the hottest teams in baseball over the past month.
When the Yanks dropped the second of two games to the Sox on May 5, they were 13-13. They are now 34-23, which means they’ve been 21-10 since then, and that includes the two losses to Tampa, after which the team really began its sprint to the top of the division. What better way to solidify their superiority than by exacting some revenge for the five games the Sox have taken from the Yanks? Hey, if the Yanks really are the best in the East, they’re going to have to even out that record vs. the Sox eventually.
Josh Beckett will take the mound with hopes of bringing the Sox back into a tie for first. He’s faced the Yanks twice this year, not pitching particularly well either time. The first time was the 16-11 marathon game, wherein both Beckett and A.J. Burnett let the game get out of hand early. Beckett lasted just five innings and surrendered eight earned runs, allowing 10 hits and walking four in the process. He was a bit better last time, for that May 5 game, tossing six innings of three-run ball. He did allow 10 hits, but the Yanks went 1 for 5 with RISP and couldn’t capitalize. That was also the game, I’m sure you remember, where Joba Chamberlain allowed four runs in the first and then came back to strike out 12 Sox.
Despite the playoff success against the Yankees in 2003, Beckett has fared rather poorly in general when facing them in the regular season. In 85.1 career innings he’s allowed 57 runs, 55 earned, for a 5.80 ERA. The only teams to fare better against Beckett have lesser samples. The Jays have hit him for a 5.95 ERA in 59 innings, but the two others — Cincinnati and Milwaukee — have seen him for under 20 innings.
A.J. Burnett’s turn didn’t come up for the two-game series, and we already discussed his pitiful outing back on April 25. He’s had his ups and downs this season, but he handled the heavy-hitting Texas Rangers very well in his last two starts. Burnett can be infuriating at times. For instance, he had a 1-2 count on Michael Young in his last appearance against Texas, but went onto walk him. That’s what led to the three-run homer, which was the only damage he allowed that game.
Pitching coach Dave Eiland talked about this issue after Burnett’s outing against Philadelphia. “But he can’t get lazy with that front side. He cannot take one pitch off. He’s got to be locked in every pitch.” The Red Sox lineup is filled with guys who will destroy mistakes. Burnett has to be spot-on tonight. He’s definitely got it in him.
Programming Note: As you know, the MLB draft is going on right now. Make sure to scroll down for Mike’s liveblog. He’ll also be posting information on the Yanks’ picks as they make them. Also, we’ve shut off the new comment indicators for the evening. It might not be necessary, but we’re not going to risk sever issues tonight.
And on the mound, number thirty-four, A.J. Burnett.