Burnett drops duel to Royals' Bullington
Righty settles down after first, but offense held scoreless
KANSAS CITY -- The first sign of the frustrating afternoon to come for the Yankees was in the second inning, when the dugout jumped to witness a baseball exploding off Alex Rodriguez's bat, only to see it die on the warning track.
A-Rod returned to the dugout shaking his head and cursing the wind, but by the end, the Yankees had run out of other excuses. Bryan Bullington worked eight magnificent innings to outpitch A.J. Burnett and post his first Major League victory in a 1-0 Royals victory on Sunday.
"He was just throwing strikes, being aggressive," Rodriguez said. "It seemed like he was 0-1, 0-2 on everybody. We never put any pressure on him, never really tested him. He did a nice job today."
Bullington was once a touted first overall selection of the Pirates in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, but the 29-year-old has meandered through a career that has now delivered him to Kansas City, wearing his fourth big league uniform.
His success finally arrived, as he made crisp and efficient work of the Bombers in a two-hit performance -- one that continued a trend that has seen the video-scouting-hungry Yankees struggle against pitchers they have not seen.
"Usually the guys that come in and dominate us are left-handed pitchers," Rodriguez said. "Usually we're able to fare a lot better with a guy like today, who throws the ball hard and challenges. He really challenged us all day and we really had nothing for him."
The elements battered a hanging slider that might have been Rodriguez's fourth homer in four consecutive at-bats, instead knocking it into the safety of Gregor Blanco's glove and allowing Bullington to cruise and retire the first 13 Yankees he faced.
"Obviously, the lineup is unbelievable, and they get that much better when they're ahead in counts," Bullington said. "Strike one is a priority, and being able to mix everything up and try not to make mistakes. If you do miss, you want to do it out of the zone."
So Bullington aggressively challenged in a fashion that A-Rod would describe as "transparent" -- as in, little deception: here it comes, hit it.
"He was pretty much just throwing it right down the middle and we were beating it into the ground," Yankees designated hitter Lance Berkman said. "Everything we hit good, we hit up in the air. You weren't going to hit a ball out of here with a cannon."
|"Whether we'd seen [Bryan Bullington] once or 100 times, the way he threw today, he was going to beat us"|
|-- Derek Jeter|
Bullington would face the minimum through seven innings, interrupted by a two-out walk to pinch-hitter Marcus Thames in the eighth. He finished by touching his cap to acknowledge a standing ovation from portions of the crowd of 26,012.
"He was good today," said Derek Jeter, who finished 0-for-4. "It's not like we came in here struggling with the bats. He threw the ball well, threw strikes, didn't fall behind too many people and he worked quick. He did a good job. ... Whether we'd seen him once or 100 times, the way he threw today, he was going to beat us."
The Yankees were unable to muster anything more against closer Joakim Soria in the ninth inning, going down in order to complete a four-game series split in Kansas City and take home an even record from their six-game road trip.
Burnett was saddled with the tough-luck complete-game loss, and the Yankees had to feel as though they had wasted his strong effort.
"I gave up the one early and tried to eliminate any more coming across, but the way [Bullington] was throwing the ball, it was his day," Burnett said. "You have to tip your cap to Bryan and the way he threw the ball. You wait for this offense to explode, and they do, day in and day out. But ... that's baseball."
The right-hander's opening act was shaky, as Billy Butler touched Burnett for an RBI single in the first inning -- a run that would improbably prove to be the difference in the game.
Burnett's mojo seemed to turn after he worked out of trouble in the second inning, nodding pitching coach Dave Eiland off the mound and then inducing a key double-play ball on Brayan Pena.
"I think he found his command," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Burnett. "He was able to make a lot of pitches today -- throw his fastball when he wanted, his curveball when he wanted, expand with his curveball when he needed to and make some hitters uncomfortable. He did everything he needed to do."
Burnett finished with three walks and six strikeouts in a 103-pitch effort.
"I really felt in control," Burnett said. "I felt that I could pretty much throw where I wanted to. It got away from me a couple of times, but I knew I could get it back. I had in the back of my mind that I could throw my hook at any time, and I had that confidence."
The Yankees drew Girardi's ire with some sloppy defense in the sixth behind Burnett, as Cano threw wildly to first base attempting to double off Blanco and Francisco Cervelli fired the ball into center field.
Even though Burnett was able to end the inning without a run scoring, Girardi was chapped by Cervelli's play in particular, saying that the backstop needed to pounce on the ball to prevent Blanco from daring to go for second base.
But that paled in comparison to the manager's review of their results against Bullington, who peppered the strike zone with four-seamers the Yankees couldn't hit before dashing his performance with sliders and changeups just for good measure.
"You look for the ball and you hit it. That's the bottom line," Girardi said. "I know when you haven't seen a guy, you're not exactly sure what he's going to do to you, but we have a lot of good hitters in that lineup. That's a game that we need to win."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.