A.J. Burnett definitely didn’t have his best stuff tonight. He uncorked three wild pitches and walked more than he struck out. As cliched as it sounds, his breaking balls were just too good, and he couldn’t dump them into the strike zone. As good pitchers are wont to do, though, Burnett found a way to get outs when he had to, and the Yankees managed to beat Joe Mauer and the rest of the Twins 4-3 for their fifth series win in a row.
To start the game, Burnett was sharp. Through two innings, he had thrown 17 of 25 pitches for strikes, but the zone slipped away after that. He uncorked two wild pitches in the third, and the Twins plated a run on one of them. Joe Mauer brought home the second with a bomb off the left field wall. Just 10 of his 19 pitches that inning went for strikes.
Over the next few innings, Burnett would pitch into and out of trouble. He put runners on base in every inning but never caved. He recorded just two strike outs today, his lowest one-game total since his short appearance against Boston, but they came at opportune times. He struck out Michael Cuddyer with the bases loaded and two outs in the 5th and then K’d Denard Span with two on and two out in the 6th. He would finish in the 7th with a fly out, and it would be enough for his 8th win of the year.
Meanwhile, the Yanks were efficient with their runs, and they scored quietly. They plated three in the third on a Nick Swisher ground out and a two-run Brett Gardner single. They added another in the 5th on an Alex Rodriguez single. It was enough.
After Burnett left, the Yanks’ pen took over. First up was Phil the Lefty. On to face, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, we all just had a feeling that he wouldn’t emerge unscathed. After falling behind 3-0 on Mauer, Coke gave up a 3-1 blast to right field. It’s fast becoming impossible to get Mauer out at home. Coke struck out Morneau for the second time this year, and Phil the Righty came in.
Hughes, clearly the Yanks’ new 8th Inning Guy, breezed through his first three outs. He ran into a slight hiccup when Brian Buscher singled with two outs in the 8th. The Twins sent up Jose Morales, a decent average/OBP guy with no power who serves as the team’s third-string catcher, and Joe Girardi countered with Mariano Rivera. Four outs and 11 pitches later, the Yankees would have their sixth win of the season against the Twins.
When Girardi went to Rivera, a few fans objected. Why not let Hughes throw to Morales? The answer though is simple. Even though Hughes has thrown lights out baseball from the pen, even though Morales isn’t that much of a threat, Mariano Rivera is Mariano Rivera. He’s the guy with whom the Yanks will live and die, and as the Red Sox had already won by then and the Rays were nearly there, the Yanks had to win. Rivera hardly had to work for his 22nd save.
Wild Pitch Notes: Jesse Spector at Touching the Bases has a short post up with some interesting if useless trivia about Burnett’s start. According to Spector, pitchers have made six starts with at least three wild pitches this year, and three of those belong to Burnett. He is also the first AL pitcher since September 27, 2004 to throw three wild pitches and win.