With A.J. Burnett set to take mound, Yankees put on game face

Down a game to the Rangers, the Yankees are pinning their hopes for Game 4 on A.J. Burnett, one of the worst pitchers in the American League in the second half of the season. Why is that?

Kathy Willens/AP
New York Yankees starting pitcher A.J. Burnett throws during a simulated game at Yankee Stadium in New York, Oct. 13.

The Yankees’ future in post-season play is now in the right hand of A.J. Burnett, after Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers spanked the "Bronx Bombers" 8-0 on Monday night in the third game of the American League Championship Series.

For the Yankees, that is a scary – almost a Halloween type of proposition – because Burnett has been one of the worst pitchers in the American League in the second half of the season.

He lost the last six of his regular season games and compiled a 5.83 earned run average – well above his past efforts. He is now greeted with boos when he walks to the mound in his home stadium.

Burnett says he is not paying attention to any of the adverse comments about his performance. “I don’t dig into it too much, but I do go off with everyday people that I meet at breakfast and lunch and stuff and it’s been nothing but positive towards me.”

So far, he’s getting warm and fuzzy thoughts from his manager, as well. “We all know what A.J. can dial up, and we believe in him,” says Joe Girardi, the Yankee manager, who reaffirmed on Monday night that Burnett would be pitching. But with the Yankees down two games to one in the American League Championship Series, Girardi is expected to temper his belief with a quick hook if Burnett gets into trouble.

One positive thing for the Yankees on Wednesday is that they will not be facing Cliff Lee, the Texas southpaw who struck out 13 Yankee batters and gave up only two hits. Instead, they come up against Tommy Hunter, a young pitcher who does not have the same repertoire as Lee.

Lee, in a dominant performance, pitched eight shutout innings Monday night, striking out 13. He gave up only two hits, keeping the Yankees from becoming any kind of threat. He changed speeds, fooling hitters, and consistently kept his pitches away from the middle of the plate.

“Cliff was great tonight, to say the least. He was just outstanding,” said Andy Pettitte, the losing pitcher for the Yankees. “I haven’t seen too many games like that.”

Lee says he is just doing what he has done all year. “I throw strikes, I see how they swing and make adjustments on the fly,” he says. “It’s a game of never ending adjustments. That’s the game.”

Pettitte became the losing pitcher after giving up a home run to Texas slugger Josh Hamilton with a man on base. “It was a bad pitch by me,” he said.

That home run, said Lee, helped give him confidence. “Some runs in the first is huge. It sets the tone early,” he said.

Most of the rest of the Texas runs came late in the game when the Yankee bullpen imploded, giving up six runs.

But it was the Yankee offense that was stifled. Their only hits were a bloop single by Jorge Posada and a solid single by Brett Gardner, who then stole second base.

Girardi says he’s confident his team will resume its winning ways. “We’re a good club,” he said in the postgame press conference. “You play a good game tomorrow and you feel a little different.”

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