With enough from Burnett, Yanks roll on
Opportunistic offense sets up club's 12th win in 14 games
MINNEAPOLIS -- Only a few pitches into Wednesday's 4-3 win over the Twins, it became apparent to Yankees catcher Jorge Posada that his starting pitcher, A.J. Burnett, had virtually no control over his curveball. Burnett could not drop one into the strike zone at will -- and his changeup was not much better. For one night, he had transformed into a one-pitch pitcher.
But Posada knew that Burnett's curveball still had more than enough movement to induce swings and misses, so he kept calling for it. And after Burnett pumped two strikes across to Michael Cuddyer with the bases loaded in the fifth, Posada called for the curveball yet again.
That one was out of the strike zone, too. But it was exactly where Burnett wanted it to be.
"That was the curveball I was looking for," Burnett said of the pitch that struck out Cuddyer.
The Yankees were hardly in control after that hook, but they were in the lead. And they remained that way until they could wrap up a victory over the Twins, their 12th win in 14 games.
"It was a tough performance by him," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Burnett. "He seemed to be in trouble in a couple of innings and found ways to get big strikeouts or big outs during the game. Sometimes you're not going to be as sharp as other nights, but when you can hold a team down and do what he did, that's a great performance."
Coming off two of his finest performances of the season, Burnett was far from sharp -- he was one-dimensional. And he hated it, berating himself on the mound on several occasions.
In previous seasons, Burnett's lack of a curveball might have been enough to send him reeling to a loss. On this night, it did nothing of the sort.
"I could have easily snapped a couple of times," Burnett said. "But that's growing up. You've got to go one pitch at a time, no matter what happens. No matter how mad you get, you've got to put it behind you."
Burnett did so in the fifth inning, when he struck out Cuddyer. He did so in the sixth, when he put two more runners on and punched out Denard Span. And he even did so in the third inning, when he threw two of his three wild pitches, issued one of his four walks and allowed both of his earned runs to score.
That inning, with the tying run in scoring position, Burnett coaxed a groundout of Justin Morneau, one of the best power hitters in the game. And the Twins stood impressed.
"That's why the Yankees went out and got that guy," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's one of those guys that knows how to pitch. He's been doing it a long time and has won a lot of ballgames. He hung in there in some tough situations and made pitches when had to."
The offense continued to chug along against Anthony Swarzak, who moved up in the rotation after the Twins scratched the left-handed Glen Perkins due to illness. It was a beneficial swap for Brett Gardner, who does not typically start against lefties. On this night, the left-handed-hitter did start, and he singled home two runs in the second.
Swarzak allowed another run that inning on Nick Swisher's sacrifice fly, lasting until Alex Rodriguez singled home a run in the fifth. And by that point, the Yankees were on their way.
"They've had our number," said Gardenhire, whose Twins have now lost six straight games this season to the Yankees.
But the visitors have hardly been perfect. For the encore to a rather pristine performance on Tuesday evening, the Yankees had to deal with Burnett's lack of control along with some curious play from Swisher, who was thrown out stretching a single into a double in the eighth and was taken aside by Girardi after he hopped off the ground while catching a routine fly ball in the second.
The Yankees stranded five runners on base over one two-inning stretch, wholly unable to tack on runs against a stout Twins bullpen. And still they won, bailed out thanks to Burnett's grit and to some timely relief from Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera.
The Yankees have opened a daunting six-game road trip with two wins, apparently accelerating into the All-Star break. And though Wednesday's win lacked the breeziness of the previous one, it was in many ways even more impressive.
Burnett fought himself, yelled at himself, stumbling forward with a blazing fastball and little else. And still he won.
"That's what he's capable of doing," Posada said. "That is why he's so good."
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.