Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Burnett stays hot, helps Yanks complete sweep

A.J. Burnett has been the Yankees' best pitcher of late and that continued Tuesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium. Burnett turned in his seventh straight quality start, going seven innings and allowing two earned runs as the Yanks took down the Orioles, 6-4.

New York jumped all over Baltimore starting pitcher Jason Berken right off the bat, dropping his record to a miserable 1-8 on the season. Berken laid the game's first pitch right down the middle of the plate and Derek Jeter ripped it into left-center for a double. Mark Teixeira singled Jeter to third and Alex Rodriguez drove Jeter in with a single to left. After a fielder's choice and a walk loaded the bases, Robinson Cano picked up an infield single to score Teixeira and Nick Swisher smacked a two-run single to right center to put the Yankees up 4-0 before Burnett even took the mound.

Burnett found himself in trouble in the top of the third thanks to a dropped fly ball by Swisher in right to start the inning, as Baltimore put runners on second and third with one out. But Burnett struck out Aubrey Huff on an unhittable curveball down and in and Swisher made up for his earlier error with a great lunging catch to rob Ty Wigginton and save two runs. Jorge Posada added a solo home run in the bottom of the inning to extend the Yankees' lead to 5-0.

Both pitchers settled down after that until the Orioles put up two in the top of the seventh against a tiring Burnett, who left after the inning with a pitch count of 104. Posada doubled Rodriguez home in the bottom of the eighth off Baltimore closer George Sherrill to give the Yankees what seemed to be a safe 6-2 lead heading into the ninth.

Brian Bruney entered the game and, pitching for the first time since July 10, promptly struck out the first two batters he faced. But Bruney reverted back to his recent inconsistent ways, leaving a fastball right down the middle that was crushed into the left field seats by Adam Jones. He left another fastball middle-in to the next batter, Nick Markakis, who deposited it into the right-field bleachers to cut the lead to 6-4 with two outs. The Yankees were forced to go to Mariano Rivera once again, who struck out Aubrey Huff with a backdoor cutter to end the game.

Burnett improved to 9-4 on the season, allowing six hits and three walks while striking out six. Phil Hughes continued his lights-out work in relief before Bruney faltered in the final frame. The Yankees would love to get Bruney straightened out, as that would give them four solid middle relief options in front of Rivera along with Hughes, Alfredo Aceves and Phil Coke. Add a deep bullpen to a great offense and an improving rotation and the Yankees could stay in first place until season's end.

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