NEW YORK -- It was only the fourth inning, and already it had the makings of a long night for the Yankees. The bats weren't doing much against Felix Hernandez, and now here came Joe Girardi sprinting to the mound.
A.J. Burnett glared down the hill and nodded, telling his manager that he was keeping his head in the game and would try to save the bullpen. He helped on that point, but the end results weren't pretty as Burnett was booed departing a 6-0 loss to the Mariners.
Burnett has not strung three quality starts together at any point this season, a stat that remained unchanged Friday. Serving up two Russell Branyan homers among 12 hits that tied a career high, Burnett pledged to shake the rough outing off quickly.
"I'm not going to give up out there, no matter what happens," Burnett said. "At this point in the season, it's a matter of getting on track to get us to October. That's what I worry about in my next start."
The Yankees came away from Burnett's last two starts -- an Aug. 10 no-decision at Texas and a tough-luck loss Sunday at Kansas City -- feeling as though they'd wasted some of his finest pitching this season.
"His last two starts were excellent. We didn't score a lot of runs in those two starts. For whatever reason, he struggled tonight," Girardi said.
It mattered little in the end, because King Felix again lorded over the Yankees. Challenging to become the first pitcher to toss four consecutive complete games against New York in more than 25 years, Hernandez settled for eight innings of scoreless, four-hit ball.
Baffling the Bombers, Hernandez walked three and struck out 11 in a 117-pitch masterpiece, seeming to get stronger as the innings grew later. Over the last two seasons, Hernandez is 4-0 with a 0.51 ERA against the Yankees, who must be grateful they don't have to see him again until 2011.
"He's pitched great against us this year," said Curtis Granderson. "His [9-10] record definitely doesn't speak for how good a pitcher he is this season. All three outings against us have been similar, where he's been dominant and effective and able to go very deep into the ballgame."
Hernandez faced the minimum through the first three innings and did not allow a hit until Derek Jeter doubled with one out in the fourth. He worked out of trouble in the fifth inning to eliminate a bases-loaded threat, striking out both Ramiro Pena and Brett Gardner swinging.
"We didn't get an opportunity again like that, but when given that opportunity and it doesn't work in your favor, you can't fold," Granderson said. "You don't want to fall behind to him."
Had the Mariners permitted Hernandez to go back out for the ninth inning, he could have become the first pitcher to throw four straight complete games against the Yankees since the Blue Jays' Dave Stieb in 1983-84. Instead, Garrett Olson recorded the final three outs.
"That is a good lineup there," Hernandez said. "They were aggressive early, patient in the middle and aggressive again. I had to make my pitches. I know even with a six-run lead, they can come back quick."
It was a lineup that enjoyed the services of Alex Rodriguez -- returning to the lineup after missing three games with a left calf strain -- for only one at-bat.
Rodriguez chopped a second-inning grounder to third base but jogged lightly toward first base, and was pinch-hit for by Austin Kearns when the DH spot came back around in the fourth inning.
"I wouldn't say it's any worse," A-Rod said. "I think it's probably about the same. I didn't run fast enough to make it worse."
Seattle put three runs on the board before the Yankees could even come to bat, as Branyan crushed his first homer of the night, a three-run shot to right-center field that gave Hernandez an immediate lead to work with.
Burnett might have been distracted by a successful double steal that preceded the tailing four-seamer to Branyan, who finished the night with six home runs in 10 career games at the new Yankee Stadium.
"It was a situation in the game where we were being aggressive and I was happy to see it at the plate," Branyan said. "I didn't care if I fell behind in the count 0-and-2. At that point, I was just focused on putting the ball on the ground and getting at least one in. [Burnett] got one up in the zone and we got more than one."
The Mariners added another run in the third inning as Franklin Gutierrez singled, stole second and scored on a Casey Kotchman hit, and Ichiro Suzuki legged out a run-scoring fielder's choice in the fourth before Burnett induced an inning-ending fielder's choice with the bases loaded.
"He gave up some tough-luck hits there," Girardi said. "I said, 'Just keep trying to make pitches.' He gave up a couple of jam shots, and that's part of it. I wanted him to keep pitching and try to make some pitches and get some outs."
That escape from further damage -- and Girardi's pep talk -- only lasted another couple of innings. Branyan's second homer of the evening and the 18th of his season came with two outs in the sixth, a solo blast to center on what Burnett called "a cookie curveball."
Whatever was raining down from Yankee Stadium's three decks by that point, Burnett said he had earned.
"I gave up six runs," Burnett said. "They have a right to boo. I'm not going to get mad at anybody for booing. ... I gave up two hard-hit balls and those were the ones that left the park. Those are the only pitches that I worry about."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.