Mentor Halladay schools protege Burnett as Blue Jays beat Yankees 5-1
The Toronto Blue Jays refused to call it anything more than one of 162, even though the matchup, the hype and the atmosphere all said otherwise.
TORONTO - The Toronto Blue Jays refused to call it anything more than one of 162, even though the matchup, the hype and the atmosphere all said otherwise.
Not even the joy of sticking it to former teammate A.J. Burnett, the glee of drubbing the New York Yankees, the satisfaction of watching ace Roy Halladay dissect their high-priced foes before an audience eager to lap it all up would make them say different.
Perhaps that's the surest sign of all that there's more to this strong start by the Blue Jays than just a hot offence and some fortuitous scheduling.
After all, it's only May and no matter how much fans enjoyed Tuesday's 5-1 victory, it doesn't count any more or any less than any others.
So keep cool, act like you know, move on to the next game.
"That's a big part of being consistent, having the same approach and not letting those things affect the way you look at games," said Halladay, ruthlessly dominating in a complete-game five-hitter.
"To get out there with the atmosphere is different but as soon as you start changing the way you approach the game, you can find yourself in trouble."
No worries about that.
The Blue Jays (23-12) were impressive in their first clash with an elite divisional foe, drubbing Burnett before an electric crowd of 43,737 - with a walkup estimated at about 13,000, causing lines at the box office to spill into the street - all hungry to exact a pound of flesh from the right-hander who abruptly abandoned them last fall.
Most of the hype coming in centred around the matchup between Halladay (7-1) and Burnett (2-1), who opted out of the final two years in his US$55-million, five-year deal to sign an $82.5-million, five-year contract with the Yankees, and the game lived up to its billing.
The two pitchers were first teammates and rivals and later teammates and friends, but were facing each other as opponents for the first time.
Halladay was his usual clinical self, while Burnett was done in by a bout of his trademark wildness, giving up a key two-run double to Scott Rolen and a sacrifice fly to Rod Barajas in a three-run fourth that effectively decided things.
Fans booed Burnett vehemently from the moment he took the field for his warmup, greeted him in the first inning with a deafening chant of "A.J. Sucks! A.J. Sucks!" and didn't let up until manager Joe Girardi pulled him with two out in the eighth and five runs in.
He was booed all the way into the dugout on his way off the field.
"I expected it," said Burnett. "They were into every pitch. From my opinion I'm going to take from it how good I am for them to use all their energy on me and not their own team."
Aaron Hill homered in the eighth and Rolen added an RBI single later that frame to complete the damage against their former teammate. Some fans continued to chant "A.J. Sucks!" on their way out of the stadium afterwards.
"That's one game," said Rolen. "It's a team that's in our division that we need to beat to continue having success. ...
"No animosity, we're all grown men."
Burnett's departure, combined with long-term injuries to fellow starters Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum, was supposed to bring down the Blue Jays and herald a new return to power in the Bronx.
Instead, about one-fifth of the way through the season, it's the Blue Jays standing tall in the American League East, 6 1-2 games in front of the Yankees, and looking very legit on this night.
"It was like a playoff atmosphere," said Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon.
"It does seem like old times," added Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston.
The intrigue revolved around the two starters.
During their three seasons together with the Blue Jays, Halladay taught Burnett how to harness his vast skills, how to think the game, how to pitch.
In turn, Burnett taught Halladay that it was OK to let up a little bit between starts, OK to make room for some fun, OK not to be single-minded in focus every single day.
But Halladay was always the mentor and Burnett always the protege, and it showed again in this one.
"I've always felt like he brought a lot of good things here and I obviously enjoyed having him," said Halladay. "He helped our whole team be better.
"I think you take bits and pieces from everybody. I've never felt like I was preaching or really trying to teach him. I felt like we were here together and there were things I took from him as well."
With Burnett replacing Alex Rodriguez as Public Enemy No. 1, the building exploded in the fourth when Rolen's chopper double down the third-base line scored a pair - A-Rod was playing well toward short, presumably because the Yanks didn't believe Rolen could pull Burnett - and Barajas followed with a sacrifice fly an out later.
Walks to Vernon Wells and Adam Lind after Alex Rios opened the frame with a double set up the decisive three-spot.
The roar was even louder in the eighth, when Hill's solo blast to left made it 4-1 and it was repeated when Rolen singled home Rios later in the frame to knock out Burnett.
"I feel like what A.J. had to go through was definitely worse than what I had to go through up in Boston (when he returned there as a Yankee)," said Damon. "That also goes to show you how good a pitcher he is.
"Everybody in the stadium was on him. That means he's pretty good."
Halladay, meanwhile, faced the minimum 18 batters through six on an astonishing 56 pitches before getting touched up for Rodriguez's RBI single in a 24-pitch seventh. That was the only inning when he seemed less than invincible, and even that only lasted for a moment.
"Early on, we stayed with a lot of (cutters) and later tried to mix other pitches in as well but when things are working you hate to go away from it," said Halladay. "I think being aggressive, trying to get ahead in the count as quickly as possible, makes for anxious hitters and you can hopefully use that to your advantage."
He came back to zip through the final two frames, leaving Scott Downs, who will remain the team's closer even after B.J. Ryan's possible return this weekend, warming idly in the bullpen.
In all Halladay allowed just the one run on five hits, striking out five. Burnett last 7 2-3 innings, giving up five runs on seven hits and four walks while striking out three.
"Right now I'll enjoy this game and later on I'll start thinking about (Wednesday), you move on," said Gaston. "I don't want to key on that game, there's a lot of big games left for us."
Notes: Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said the team was still deciding if and how to readjust the rotation once injured starters Casey Janssen (right shoulder) and Ricky Romero (right oblique) return from injury, possibly this weekend. Janssen allowed one run over six innings with five strikeouts in a rehab start for double-A New Hampshire on Tuesday, while Romero starts for the Fisher Cats on Wednesday. ... Yankees SS Derek Jeter is day-to-day after being removed from the lineup because of a sore right oblique. Manager Joe Girardi hopes Jeter can play Wednesday. Ramiro Pena took Jeter's spot in the lineup. ... Yankees OF Hideki Matsui left the game in the fifth inning with tightness in his right hamstring and is day-to-day. ... Walter Gretzky was in the crowd.