Until decisive sixth, A.J.'s woes were of the past

Until decisive sixth, A.J.'s woes were of the past

NEW YORK -- Heading into Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday night, observers wondered if Yankees manager Joe Girardi made the right call when he tabbed A.J. Burnett to start against the Rangers.

After all, Burnett's last start was on Oct. 2 against the Red Sox, and he was coming off his worst season of his career, going 10-15 with a 5.26 ERA. Some felt it was best to have CC Sabathia pitch on short rest.

Looking at Burnett's stat line -- five runs in six innings -- the decision backfired against the Yankees, who lost to the Rangers, 10-3, putting New York in a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS. But Burnett pitched better than what the stat line indicated.

"I felt good the whole night," Burnett said. "Believe it or not, it was probably the best I've pitched in a long, long time. I was mixing in everything. I was able to throw everything with confidence."

The sellout crowd of 49,977 was cheering for Burnett from the start. Burnett retired the first six hitters he faced and was given a 1-0 lead after two innings. Burnett lost the lead, however, an inning later. It wasn't as bad as it would appear. David Murphy scored on a groundout by Elvis Andrus, and Bengie Molina scored on an infield single by Michael Young.

"The two runs early, I could live with that," Burnett said.

By the fourth inning, Burnett was staked to a 3-2 lead until it all started to unravel two frames later. With a runner on second and two outs, Burnett was given the sign by Girardi to intentionally walk Murphy, who represented the go-ahead run.

One can understand why Girardi made the decision. During his career, Murphy is 5-for-17 (.294) with a home run and two RBIs against Burnett. The skipper preferred Burnett facing the right-handed-hitting Molina, who was already 1-for-1 in the game.

"He was throwing the ball good all night," Girardi said about Burnett. "You think about the first two runs that he gave up, he walked a guy, hit a guy and they ended up scoring one on a ground ball and [another on an] infield hit. But he was throwing the ball good, and we decided to leave him in."

On the first pitch to Molina, Burnett tried to throw a fastball on the outside part of the plate, but the ball went middle in and Molina hit it over the left-field wall for a three-run homer to give Texas a 5-3 lead it wouldn't relinquish.

"I was actually looking for a good pitch to hit, that's all," Molina said. "I think when something like that happens, I always said it, it's the game. Murphy, he's a great hitter and he kills right-handers, so why not walk him and face me? I haven't been having a great season. I don't think it's a bad move. I think it's the right move that went wrong."

Burnett knew Molina hit the home run the moment the ball was hit. He was seen grabbing his head in disbelieve.

"The last pitch was definitely a mistake. I tried to stay away from righties and I missed," Burnett said. "I threw it in the middle of the plate. You want to keep the team in it, especially with a one-run lead. You don't want to make a mistake with two guys on."

Catcher Francisco Cervelli, who started over Jorge Posada, said that he and Burnett never questioned the decision of intentionally walking Murphy. He pointed out that Burnett should have thrown a better pitch to Molina.

"We are soldiers. We just say, 'Yes' and that's it," Cervelli said. "If [Girardi] wanted to walk Murphy to get to Molina, we still have to get to the pitch. That's it. We missed, and we paid for it."

Now, the Yankees have to stave off elimination when they face the Rangers on Wednesday afternoon at 4 ET, with Sabathia on the mound for New York.

"It gives us a great feeling that he is on the mound," Burnett said.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also can be found on Twitter -- @washingnats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.