04/27/07 12:18 AM ET
Burnett, Jays shut out Yankees
Righty lights-out for seven; bats get to New York's top prospect
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
It was an impressive conclusion to a three-city tour of the American League East that began with a disheartening sweep at the hands of the Orioles. After those three losses, which stretched the losing streak to five at the time, the Blue Jays outscored the Red Sox and Yankees 23-6 for a trio of wins that quickly lightened the mood inside Toronto's clubhouse.
"We've played some really good baseball the last three games against teams we've got to beat," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "So, what started depressing finished on a good note."
On Thursday, Blue Jays starter A.J. Burnett led the charge, silencing the Yankees' bats for seven shutout innings and sending New York to its sixth straight defeat. It was easily the right-hander's best outing of the young season, and the performance overcame the hype surrounding the big-league debut of highly-touted Yankees starter Phil Hughes.
Toronto's hitters provided an early trip to the showers for New York's 20-year-old rookie. Hughes was touched up for four runs over 4 1/3 innings by the Jays (11-10), who notched two runs in the first and fifth innings against the right-hander.
Still, the crowd inside Yankee Stadium chanted Hughes' name as he exited the game. It was a moment that had Burnett reminiscing about his first trip to the mound as a Major Leaguer.
"It definitely wasn't in Yankee Stadium and they definitely weren't chanting, 'Burnett,'" he said with a laugh. "But it was fun. I pitched in L.A., so I can only imagine what he's feeling right now. He's got good stuff. He should be around for a while."
Toronto just wanted to make sure Hughes (0-1) wasn't around too long on Thursday. In the first, Alex Rios singled and stole second base to lead things off. Jays center fielder Vernon Wells, who has 11 hits in his last 14 at-bats, doubled home Rios and later scored on a base hit by designated hitter Frank Thomas.
In the fifth, Rios drove an offering from Hughes into center field for an RBI single. After the young hurler left the contest later that frame, Thomas sent Rios running across home plate with a sacrifice fly. Hughes finished with five strikeouts and one walk.
"The only problem he ran into tonight was falling behind hitters," Wells said. "If you fall behind hitters, especially in this division, it can lead to trouble. ... I think he handled himself really well. I think our guys just did a good job of waiting him out and getting a pitch and not missing it."
Toronto's success against Hughes, combined with two add-on runs against New York's bullpen, provided more than enough for Burnett (2-1) to work with. Burnett walked four in the outing, but he had better command of his curve in his latest start and rung up five strikeouts against New York (8-12).
"When he has his game together, he's intimidating," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "He didn't budge. He wouldn't budge. We hit a couple of balls hard, but we didn't do a whole lot. He pretty much had his way with us."
After giving up 11 earned runs in 14 innings over his first three starts of the season, Burnett has posted a 1.29 ERA in his last two outings. Wells couldn't help but grin when he was asked about Burnett's latest performance.
"That's what we like to see," Wells said with a smile. "It's fun to watch. I find myself turning around to look at the miles per hour all the time after he releases a pitch. He's exciting, and we just need to keep him healthy so he can continue to do this for us."
As far as Burnett's concerned, he just needs Jays starter Roy Halladay to continue to pitch well, too. Burnett said that when Toronto's ace turns in a stellar outing -- like the one Halladay spun on Tuesday in Boston -- it helps him for his next turn in the rotation.
"I always try to feed off this guy I'm throwing behind," said Burnett, referring to Halladay. "It goes back to that feeling of competition. You watch him pitch and you don't want to do anything but try to be better than him. I have a long way to go, but I just try to repeat what he did and get some momentum with this team."
After Halladay put the finishing touches on the two-game sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Wells was thrilled to see Burnett hand a loss to the rival Yankees in the Bronx.
"We could have very easily come into Boston and New York and got our butts kicked the same way we did in Baltimore," Wells said. "But our guys rose to the challenge. We love this kind of atmosphere, and everybody came out and played well."
That gave Toronto something to smile about.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.