Commentary

A.J. Burnett pitches well enough to lose

Still his own harshest critic, right-hander takes one step forward, one step back

Updated: September 7, 2010, 9:26 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- It is not good enough.

If you want to grade A.J. Burnett on a curve, go ahead, but he has an $82.5 million contract that brings with it a different set of expectations. He has a responsibility as the supposed No. 2 starter of the New York Yankees to not return opportunities the moment he is handed them.

While manager Joe Girardi and captain Derek Jeter said they thought Burnett pitched well enough on Monday, reasoning it was a step in the right direction, one important person didn't agree: Burnett.

Monday's 4-3 Yankees loss to the Baltimore Orioles wasn't good enough in Burnett's eyes. Giving up four runs in seven innings is not terrible, but every time the Yankees propped Burnett up, he let them down.

Twice, the Yankees tied the score for Burnett. Twice, he immediately gave the lead right back.

"That's the story of the day," said Burnett, who is as consistently self-critical as he is inconsistent on the mound.

That is why the Yankees can't be fully confident in Burnett. While Girardi and Jeter were right about Burnett's stuff -- it did look sharper -- it is always about Burnett's head, not his arm.

Succeeding in October has a lot to do with having more talent than your opponent, but there is a mental part, too. Burnett was the first to admit that he failed in what he called "shutdown innings" on Monday. Those are innings after your team has either tied up the game or put you in the lead.

Burnett came out in the first, looking lights-out, striking out two as he retired the Orioles in order. In the second, as if a different person was on the mound, Burnett walked the first two batters, but escaped without giving up a run.

In the third, the No. 9 hitter, Josh Bell, a .219 batter coming in, led off with a double and eventually scored. Alex Rodriguez got the run back for Burnett in the fourth with a mammoth solo homer to left.

Immediately in the next half inning, the No. 8 hitter, Cesar Izturis, nailed a double. He would score on a two-out RBI single from Brian Roberts, as Burnett handed the run right back.

Burnett would allow another run in the sixth, but the Yankees would tie it on an A-Rod's sacrifice fly and Robinson Cano's bloop single in the bottom of the inning.

Immediately after that, Burnett allowed the Orioles to take the lead back. Again, it was the pesky Roberts with a two-out RBI single to make it 4-3.

Still, after the game, Girardi acted satisfied with Burnett, calling the start "a good step forward."

"He gave us a chance to win," Girardi said.

Not really. His teammates kept giving Burnett chances to win and he kept returning them to the Orioles. Burnett wasn't terrible, of course, and if the Yankees had roughed up Orioles starter Brian Matusz maybe he could have walked away with a win.

Still, Burnett didn't take a step forward in inspiring confidence when he is given the ball on a cold October night. There will be nearly 50,000 fans at Yankee Stadium holding their breath.

Jeter, who has his own problems -- though his are at the plate -- agreed with Girardi that Burnett is going in the right direction.

"He looked a lot stronger today," Jeter said.

In the first, Burnett did look like he might have no-hit stuff, but something happened in the second. And then every time the Yankees gave him a chance, he couldn't handle it.

"It's unfortunate," Burnett said.

It is also not good enough. He is being paid a fortune to be the man behind CC Sabathia. He has to do more than give the Yankees a chance to win. When they give him a chance to win, he needs to shut down the opposition.

Burnett knows it.

GAME NOTES: Alex Rodriguez became the first player in the history of the game to have 100 RBIs in 14 seasons, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. His 13 straight seasons with 100 RBIs tie Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx for the longest streak ever. ... Rodriguez, whose fourth-inning solo shot was his 22nd of the season, was not overwhelmed by his accomplishments. "It is nice," Rodriguez said. ... After playing a second consecutive day, Rodriguez said his calf felt fine. ... Derek Jeter started the day with a double, but then had three groundouts. He now has five hits in his past 46 at-bats. His average remained at a season-low .264. He said he is feeling better. "I liked my at-bats the last two days," Jeter said.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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