Commentary

Joe Girardi angry at listless Yankees

Team wastes fine performance by Burnett, continuing its pattern of quick getaways

Updated: August 15, 2010, 9:07 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

BurnettJamie Squire/Getty ImagesA.J. Burnett went eight strong innings but took the loss.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Say this much for the New York Yankees: When they mail one in, they spare no expense. They don't just slap a stamp on it. They go Express Mail, first class all the way.

There is really no other explanation for what happened Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium. It was getaway day, and the Yankees played like a team that wanted to get away in a hurry.

The good news was, if you blinked, you missed it.

It took five years for the Kansas City Royals' starting pitcher, Bryan Bullington, to lose his first seven major league games. It took all of 2 hours, 7 minutes for him to finally win one, 1-0, over the defending World Series champions, who managed all of two hits and three baserunners all afternoon long.

No wonder Joe Girardi was as angry and snappish as I have seen him all season long, thoroughly disgusted with his club and not really concerned if anyone noticed it.

"What do you think?'' he snarled at Kim Jones, the YES Network interviewer who asked him how it felt to lose a game in which his starting pitcher threw a complete game and held the opposition to one run.

Considering that the pitcher was the notoriously erratic A.J. Burnett only worsened Girardi's mood. "That's a game we need to win,'' he said.

The easy explanation seemed to be that, once again, the Yankees' hitters, who pride themselves on their preparation, struggled against a pitcher they had never seen before. But the manager wasn't buying that one.

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaThe day after his three-homer barrage, A-Rod went 0-for-3.

"I get tired of talking about it, I know that,'' he said. "I know when you haven't seen a guy, you're not exactly sure what he's gonna do to you, but we have a lot of good hitters in our lineup. You look for the ball and you hit it, that's the bottom line.''

The problem was, the Yankees didn't look for too many balls and hit practically none. It was almost as if they had shipped their bats back to New York in advance of Monday night's game against the Detroit Tigers -- the start of a seven-game homestand.

"We need to play better, that's what we need to do,'' Girardi said. "We need to go home and play well. Tying series is not good enough. We need to start winning series.''

Losing Sunday's game meant the Yankees split four games with the lowly Royals, who are 20 games under .500 and 19 games off the pace in the AL Central. It also meant that combined with their split of the two-game series in Texas, the Yankees were a .500 ballclub on this road trip.

"There's a big difference between 4-2 and 3-3,'' said Alex Rodriguez, who followed his four-hit, three-HR Saturday with a hitless Sunday. "It's not quite good enough.''

Quite right. Not only did the Yankees waste Burnett's best outing of the season and look helpless against a pitcher who has been hapless throughout his career, they embarrassed themselves in the field in the sixth inning when they committed two errors on the same play.

With one out and Gregor Blanco on first after singling to lead off the inning, Robinson Cano snared Billy Butler's liner to second. Then he fired to first in an attempt to double off Blanco, only he airmailed his throw past Mark Teixeira, allowing Blanco to go to second.

That would have been bad enough, but Francisco Cervelli, backing up the play, fired to second in a misguided attempt to get Blanco, and bounced the throw into center field, allowing Blanco to take third, too.

"That just shouldn't happen,'' Girardi said, shaking his head. There really was nothing more to say.

And for good measure, Lance Berkman twisted his ankle stepping on first base while being doubled up in the fifth. He left the game, and then left the ballpark with a cowboy boot on his left foot and a shower slipper on his right, the ankle swollen and heavily taped. He is said to be day-to-day.

But the real story was how a team that could refuse to give up a single pitch in rallying to overcome a 6-1 deficit to Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers on Wednesday could give up 25 at-bats to Bryan Bullington on Sunday.

According to Rodriguez, the Royals' starter, a poster child for first-round draft choice disasters -- he was the top pick in the nation by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2002 amateur draft -- did nothing that should have dissuaded the defending World Series champions from giving him a Royal beating.

"This guy was very transparent,'' A-Rod said. "There was no guessing game. No secrets. He was throwing 4-seamers all over the strike zone.''

Berkman agreed. "He was pretty much just throwing it right down the middle and we were beating it into the ground.''

Bullington wasn't throwing especially hard -- his fastball ran between 91 and 93 mph -- and threw first-pitch strikes to only nine of the 25 batters he faced. But the Yankees' hitters, whose trademark at the plate is patience, never seemed to linger over their at-bats. Bullington needed only nine pitches to get through the first inning, seven to get through the second, and after eight innings had thrown just 96 pitches.

Not even Girardi could summon up an ounce of graciousness for a pitcher who came into the game with an 0-7 record and 5.02 ERA since his debut in 2005, which incidentally is the worst record of any starting pitcher to beat the Yankees since another 0-7, Bob Savage of the Philadelphia Athletics, beat them in 1946.

"I would have to sit and watch the tape to see exactly what he did,'' Girardi said. "I'm not sure.''

Maybe the answer is as simple as the peculiar psychology of getaway day, a psychology that has seemed to do in the Yankees several times this season. They have a 4-5 record in getaway-day games this season, including some of their most perfunctory performances.

On May 13, they concluded a road trip by going down to Justin Verlander and the Tigers, 6-0, in 2:38. They got swamped by the Twins, 8-2, on getaway day on May 27. On June 10, they staged a very similar no-show against the Orioles and Jake Arrieta, who was making his major league debut, losing 4-3.

And just two weeks ago, it was Girardi himself who mailed one in, benching Rodriguez and Brett Gardner and starting Berkman at first base in a getaway game against the Rays, a predictable 3-0 loss in which the Yankees managed just five hits.

Now, the Yankees sit only one game ahead of the Rays in the AL East, hoping that they don't let the division get away from them, too.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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