Tonight’s game was really a tale of two half innings. In the top of the third, AJ Burnett yielded an infield single and a walk before throwing Cesar Izturis’ sacrifice bunt down the right field line. With one run in, no outs and men on second and third, the stage was set for a Burnett implosion. Instead of caving in and losing his composure, however, Burnett responded by striking out the next three batters. More impressively, he recorded all three strikeouts with his curveball. In the past, Burnett has been prone to overthrowing when things don’t go his way, but this time he used the Baltimore batters’ aggressiveness against them.
Burnett’s Houdini act was vital for the Yankees because rookie Brian Matusz was pitching well against them. Unlike his last start, Matusz had much better command of his fastball and change-up, and therefore was able to keep the Yankee lineup off balance. Still, the Yankees were able to tie the score in the bottom of the third after Francisco Cervelli tripled and scored on Ramiro Pena’s groundout. In all fairness to Matusz, however, Adam Jones misplayed Cervelli’s liner, turning a single into a three-base hit.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, Matusz faced his half inning of reckoning when a leadoff walk to Brett Gardner and bloop single by Cervelli set up a bunting situation. Just as Burnett did in the third, Matusz fielded the attempted sacrifice and then tossed into right field. Also like Burnett, Matusz was able to bear down. He next retired Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher on pop ups, but the rookie couldn’t seal the deal. Instead, he walked Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, which gave the Yankees a third run.
Once gifted with the lead, Burnett went right back to pounding the strike zone with his fastball. Even though he probably had his best curve of the year (five of his eight strikeouts were on curve balls), he still only threw it about 20% of the time (over the last two years, Burnett has thrown 30% curves). By being able to command the fastball, Burnett once again kept his pitch count low, which allowed him to once again pitch into the 8th inning.
After building another insurance run in the bottom of the eighth with a Gardner stolen base, Cervelli sac bunt and Pena sacrifice fly, the Yankees once again handed the ball to their temporary closer. Although Mariano Rivera had reported no discomfort in a pre-game throwing session, Girardi had decided to give Mo an extra day of rest. So, instead of Enter Sandman, Joba Chamberlain trotted out of the pen in the ninth to close out another 4-1 victory.
- The Yankees have now won 8 of 9 series to start the season, a feat matched only by the 1928, 1939 and 2003 ball clubs.
- Derek Jeter’s first inning double was the 443rd of his career, moving him past Don Mattingly for third place on the all-time franchise list.
- Francisco Cervelli’s triple was the first of his career. His three hits also tied a career high, which he also accomplished on June 14, 2009 against the Mets.
- In addition to providing an offensive spark, Cervelli made a highlight reel defensive play when he caught Garrett Atkin’s pop up and then tumbled into the Yankee dugout to end the fourth inning.
- A.J. Burnett improved to 11-2 lifetime against the Orioles.
- In four career starts (29 1/3 innings) with Cervelli behind the plate, Burnett is 4-0 with a 0.61 ERA.
- Nick Markakis’ third inning strikeout was his first in 32 PAs.
- For the second game in a row, the bottom of the Yankees order carried the offense. The bottom three hitters in the order were 4-8 with four runs and two RBIs.
- Greg Golson made his Yankees debut as a defensive replacement in the top of the eighth inning. Golson was inserted into center, which shifted Gardner to left. The respective speed of the two outfielders was on display for the last out of the game. Gardner easily caught Ryan Hughes liner, but Golson raced over from center and could have made the catch as well.