Doc goes distance to down Yankees
Halladay outduels Burnett for league-leading seventh win
TORONTO -- A.J. Burnett stepped off the mound at Rogers Centre with his head hung in the eighth inning, and the decibel level inside the stadium rose with each step the Yankees pitcher took toward the visitors' dugout. His first Bronx cheer came from Blue Jays fans north of the border.
It was a way for the crowd to point out the one lesson Burnett did not learn during the past three years as the No. 2 starter behind Toronto ace Roy Halladay. He did not figure out the secret to beating Doc.
On Tuesday night, Halladay spun a complete-game gem to outduel Burnett, leading the upstart Blue Jays to a 5-1 victory in their first meeting of the season with the rival Yankees.
Toronto improved its American League-leading record to 23-12, becoming the first team in the Majors to reach that win total this season. Halladay upped his ledger to 7-1, making him the only pitcher in the game to already achieve seven victories this year. It's that type of early-season showing that helped convince more than 43,000 fans to pour through the gates to see the Jays' latest contest.
"It does seem like old times," manager Cito Gaston said with a smile.
The period Gaston referred to was back in the Blue Jays' glory days in the early 1990s, when such a crowd was common. The showing for the opener of this three-game set with the Yankees -- including roughly 12,500 fans who purchased tickets at the ballpark on Tuesday -- was the largest non-Opening Day crowd since a game against New York last Sept. 25.
That heightened atmosphere meant more to Halladay than facing Burnett, who opted out of his contract with the Jays over the winter and signed a five-year deal worth $82.5 million to pitch for the Yankees. For Halladay, even though Burnett is a friend, it seemed the same as any other start -- with the exception of the raucous environment.
"The more fans that are here, the better team we are," Halladay said. "I think any team that draws well at home can tell you that. There's just a lot more energy. It's easier to get into the game and it makes a huge difference. Obviously, winning is what fans want to see, so we have to continue to do that in order for them to keep showing up."
Finding the win column hasn't been much of an issue to this point for the Blue Jays.
The club's offense has been relentless, while the pitching staff has more than made up for the loss of Burnett, who won 18 games and led the league with 231 strikeouts a year ago as a Blue Jay. Halladay has led the charge, as expected, but a cast of young and inexperienced arms have helped keep the rotation intact.
"That part of it has been a little more surprising," Halladay said.
As for Halladay, what he has done to this point has been status quo for the consistent ace.
Halladay has logged at least seven innings in each of his outings this season, and he has turned in at least eight frames in four of his past five trips up the hill. Against the Yankees (15-17), Halladay dominated for nine innings, scattering five hits, striking out five with no walks and using his dancing arsenal of cutters and sinkers to create 16 groundouts.
Halladay used no more than 15 pitches in eight of his nine innings and threw first-pitch strikes to 24 of the 30 hitters he faced. In doing so, Halladay also improved his career record against the Yankees to 16-5. Shortstop Derek Jeter wasn't in the lineup for New York, and designated hitter Hideki Matsui exited early with a right hamstring injury, but it hardly took away from Halladay's performance.
"I just tried to work ahead and stay down," Halladay said. "That's been a focus for me against a lot of teams, especially this team. Obviously, they're missing one or two guys, but it's important against better teams to work ahead and avoid causing trouble for yourself."
After a one-out single to New York's Johnny Damon in the first inning, Halladay cruised through 17 consecutive batters without allowing a hit. That streak ended with a one-out double in the seventh for Damon, who later scored on a single to left field by Alex Rodriguez. That cut the Blue Jays' lead at the time to 3-1 -- a cushion that was more than ample for Halladay.
"His stuff breaks a foot and a half. It's real good," Damon said. "Halladay showed why he's the best around and why he's going to continue to be the best around."
Halladay also showed that he can thrive in a game that came with much hype -- not that the Blue Jays would expect anything different.
"Doc likes being right in the action," Gaston said. "When it's a big game, he's going to go out and give you all he has, but he does that any time. Any time he goes to that mound, he's going to give you all he has, really."
That is why Halladay is the ace of Toronto's staff, and why Burnett was the sidekick for the past three seasons. In his time with the Jays, Burnett endured multiple trips to the disabled list due to various arm issues before finally showing his potential last season. It was a career season for the right-hander, and one that led to a large contract in the offseason.
Burnett (2-1) walked away with his first loss of the season after being charged with five runs on seven hits over 7 2/3 innings, during which he issued four walks and struck out three. After blanking the Jays for the first three innings, Burnett gave up a leadoff double to Toronto's Alex Rios and loaded the bases with a pair of walks to open the fourth.
Blue Jays third baseman Scott Rolen, who entered the game with an 0-for-18 career showing against Burnett, followed by pulling a pitch into left field for a two-run double. Rod Barajas added a sacrifice fly to give the Jays a 3-0 advantage. In the eighth, Aaron Hill belted a solo home run off Burnett, and Rolen added an RBI single.
While jogging in the outfield before his first start in Toronto since switching clubs, the fans opened with a chorus of boos for Burnett. The cries intensified when he took the mound in the first inning, and the dome was deafening when he was pulled with two outs in the eighth inning.
Considering the circumstances, Burnett anticipated the reception he received on Tuesday night.
"Any time you opt out of a contract like that and go somewhere else, you're going to get that," Burnett said. "I expected that and I expected Doc to do what Doc did."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.