PHILADELPHIA – A.J. Burnett started walking briskly off the mound before manager Joe Girardi even got there. The erratic right-hander already was finished – and he knew it.
With a chance to pitch the New York Yankees to their first World Series championship in nine years, Burnett was a major bust in Game 5 on Monday night. He gave up a three-run homer before retiring a hitter and was chased with nobody out in the third inning.
“You just feel like you let a bunch of guys down,” Burnett said. “It’s the worst feeling in the world to have the chance to do something special and fail like that.”
After battering Burnett, the Philadelphia Phillies held on for an 8-6 victory that cut their deficit to 3-2 and sent the Series back to New York for Game 6 on Wednesday night.
“It was nobody else’s fault but mine out there tonight,” Burnett said. “It was embarrassing. With the importance of a game like that, you’ve got to figure out a way to throw strikes.”
Burnett tossed seven stellar innings in Game 2, beating Pedro Martinez and the power-hitting Phillies 3-1 at home to tie the Series. It was an encouraging outing under immense pressure, and Burnett’s first win in four post-season starts – all this year.
New York went back to him on three days’ rest in Game 5, which seemed a good idea. Burnett entered 4-0 with a 2.33 earned-run average in four career starts on short rest, though he hadn’t tried it this season. He said Sunday he felt good and was excited about pitching against his buddy from back home in Arkansas, Phillies ace Cliff Lee.
The matchup was one-sided.
Burnett never looked comfortable on the mound, taking deep breaths, tucking in his jersey and digging mud out of his spikes. He couldn’t get on top of his fastball and lacked the nasty curve that overpowered Philadelphia last week.
“If we would have pitched today, we probably would have won,” Girardi said. “A.J. struggled today. He felt good, he just struggled.”
In Game 2, Burnett threw first-pitch strikes to his first 11 batters and 22 of 26 overall. This time, the aggressive Phillies attacked him early in the count.
“They’re big league hitters over there. They watch film and they make adjustments,” he said.
Burnett got ahead of leadoff man Jimmy Rollins 1-2 in the first inning, then gave up a single. Shane Victorino squared to bunt and was hit in the right hand with a 95 mph fastball. Chase Utley drove the next pitch over the right-field fence for a 3-1 Phillies lead.
In the third, Burnett walked Utley and Ryan Howard. When Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez followed with RBI singles, Burnett was done.
Back in the dugout, his head hung low and his eyes narrowed as he watched his teammates try to fight back.
“I’ve got to take it hard. It’s me,” Burnett said. “These guys played the game they played, put up runs that usually win ball games.”
It was the first time in 14 games this post-season that a Yankees starter failed to last six innings – and the shortest outing by a World Series starter since Houston’s Roger Clemens left Game 1 against the Chicago White Sox in 2005 after two innings because of a strained hamstring.
Girardi and the Yankees have learned at least one thing about Burnett during his first year in New York: He’s not a guy you can count on to close out a post-season series.
Burnett also had an opportunity to wrap up the AmericanL championship series on the road in Game 5 against Los Angeles, but he yielded four runs in the first. When his teammates rallied to take a seventh-inning lead, he failed to put away the Angels.
Andy Pettitte won Game 6 to clinch that Series. He’s expected to get the ball again Wednesday night, this time on three days’ rest.
“We’re going to check with Andy tomorrow when we work out,” Girardi said. “If Andy physically feels good, he’s going to go on Wednesday.”
This outing certainly wasn’t what the Yankees were looking for when they signed Burnett to an US$82.5 million, five-year contract as a free agent in the off-season.
In perhaps the biggest game of his life, he had his shortest start since going two innings on April 4, 2007, with Toronto at Detroit.
“He just didn’t have his stuff,” teammate Johnny Damon said.