Healthy Burnett cools off the Yanks
Righty throws six shutout frames, helped by offense
NEW YORK -- A.J. Burnett walked off the field at Yankee Stadium and headed up the tunnel behind the visitor's dugout, opting to watch the final three innings of Wednesday's game in the Bronx from the comforts of Toronto's temporary clubhouse.
Burnett had just completed his role in the Blue Jays' 5-2 victory, fashioning a strong performance against the Yankees. It was up to Toronto's bullpen to finish the job -- no small task in New York's always-intimidating atmosphere.
On this night, though, the Blue Jays' arms were on full display. Billed as the strongest asset of Toronto's roster -- the element that can essentially make or break any hope the Blue Jays have of contending for a playoff spot this season -- the pitching staff rendered the Yankees helpless at the plate.
From his seat inside the dressing room, Burnett watched relievers Brian Tallet and Jeremy Accardo put the final touches on the first victory of the season for the Blue Jays. Accardo escaped a drama-filled ninth inning with a save, but it was mention of Tallet's masterful two-inning outing that forced a smile from Burnett.
"I had the pleasure of watching him in here on that big screen," said Burnett, motioning to the television in the visitor's clubhouse. "It was fun to watch. It shows you what we've got here. We're going to score some runs, so if this pitching staff and this bullpen stay healthy, it's going to be a good year."
Burnett (1-0) might as well have been referring to himself, considering his unfortunate history with the disabled list. In the last two seasons with Toronto (1-1), Burnett has landed on the DL four times, upping his career total to 10 times over as many seasons. The right-hander, an integral part of any success the Jays will have this year, is hoping to avoid similar woes.
But in the fourth inning on Wednesday, Burnett gave the Jays a scare. After fielding a ball chopped back up the middle by Derek Jeter, Burnett tweaked his left knee and winced in pain as he crouched near the mound. Following a brief visit from manager John Gibbons and Toronto's trainers, Burnett took the hill again and continued his first start of the year.
That wasn't good news for the Yankees (1-1), who were unable to solve Burnett in the game's first six innings. The right-hander mixed in a healthy amount of changeups to complement his curveball and fastball, leaving New York's hitters guessing all night. Burnett's outing came to an end when Alex Rodriguez launched a 3-2 pitch for a two-run homer with no outs in the seventh.
By that time, though, Toronto had already touched New York's pitchers for five runs -- two on a home run by center fielder Vernon Wells in the third inning.
"Every pitch we threw out there was very good," Gibbons said. "A.J. was dominating. He threw some good changeups, and he was locked in with some good breaking balls -- that was great to see out of him. That's what he can do, and I'm proud of the guy."
After the blast by Rodriguez, Gibbons turned the game over to Tallet, who retired each of the six hitters he faced. Primarily using his cut fastball, the lanky left-hander began his performance with consecutive strikeouts of Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano in the seventh, and finished with a strikeout of Johnny Damon to end the eighth.
That opened the door for a save chance for Accardo, who is filling in as Toronto's closer until B.J. Ryan makes his way back from the major reconstructive surgery he had on his left elbow in May. It's the same task Accardo was given when Ryan was sidelined last year, and the right-hander saved 30 games as the temporary stopper.
The home half of the ninth inning didn't open well. With the Jays ahead, 5-2, Jeter sent a pitch from Accardo bouncing to the left of second baseman Aaron Hill, who made a diving grab but was unable to make a clean throw to first base. New York's Bobby Abreu followed with a broken-bat single to right field, putting the Yankees one swing away from tying the game.
"When you go out there for the first one, it always somehow, someway ends up a little shaky," Accardo said. "I made my pitches and gave up a ground-ball hit and then a broken-bat single. I mean, I throw those pitches again, and maybe next time there will be a different result."
It didn't matter in the end. Accardo followed by striking out Rodriguez on a 2-2 pitch, and Giambi gave Toronto a scare with a deep flyout to center field. Cano still had a chance to pull the Yankees back into the ballgame, but he lofted an offering down the left-field line, and outfielder Buck Coats secured the ball for the game's final out.
"I feel confident to say I'd run our bullpen against anybody's," Tallet said. "We all come in and we throw strikes, and we force guys to hit the ball. For the most part, everybody's got really, really good stuff."
It showed against New York. Toronto had one of the top pitching staffs in the game a year ago and, if Wednesday was any indication, could potentially have another impressive season ahead.
"We threw an awful lot of pitching at them tonight -- that's for sure," Gibbons said with a grin.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.