Burn notice: Yanks on verge of elimination
After an intentional walk, Burnett yields three-run homer
NEW YORK -- The feel-good tale A.J. Burnett wanted to author was swiftly deleted by Bengie Molina's sixth-inning three-run homer, which helped lift the Rangers to a 10-3 victory in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series on Tuesday and officially put the Yankees on the brink of elimination.
With Texas -- which owns a 3-1 series advantage and has held the lead in 29 of the 36 total innings this series -- now one win away from advancing to its first World Series, the Yankees must win three straight to secure their 41st AL pennant. Game 5 will be played at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, with first pitch scheduled for 4 p.m. ET.
"They've played better than us -- they've pitched better and they've hit better," said Yankees captain Derek Jeter. "So when you have that combination, obviously we've gotten ourselves behind. We have to come in and try to win a game."
The Yankees will ask ace CC Sabathia to prolong their season, taking the ball for Game 5 opposite C.J. Wilson. New York had squeezed five innings from Burnett, tabbed for his first start since Oct. 2, but a questionable decision to put the go-ahead run on base proved to be a game-changer.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi signaled from the dugout to walk David Murphy, preferring instead to see Burnett face Molina, who hit only five home runs during the regular season. But Burnett's first pitch leaked over the plate, and Molina rocketed it into the left-field seats for a momentum-changing homer.
"We liked the way A.J. was throwing the ball," Girardi said. "He was throwing the ball good, and we decided to leave him in. We liked the matchup, A.J. against Molina. Unfortunately, it didn't work out."
Josh Hamilton slugged a pair of solo homers, connecting in the seventh off Boone Logan and in the ninth off Sergio Mitre, and Nelson Cruz added a ninth-inning two-run shot to send most of a crowd of 49,977 streaming for the Major Deegan Expressway, leaving only pockets of "Let's Go Rangers" chants raining onto the field for the last few outs.
"We know what our ultimate goal is," Texas third baseman Michael Young said. "We know we're still facing a very good club. We're happy with our effort. We've got a great opportunity in front of us and we're confident, but we just want to continue our style of baseball. That's the main thing."
There was worse news for the Yankees, who lost Mark Teixeira to a Grade 2 strain of his right hamstring in the fifth inning and will finish the postseason without him.
With two on and no outs, Teixeira chopped a fielder's-choice grounder and clutched at his hamstring while running down the line, sliding in feet-first. Teixeira had to be helped off the field by assistant athletic trainer Steve Donohue and was replaced by pinch-runner Marcus Thames.
PERFECTLY TIMED STREAK
|Series||After Gm 4||Gm 5||Gm 6||Gm 7|
|'07 ALCS||CLE, 3-1||BOS, 7-1||BOS, 12-2||BOS, 11-2|
|'04 ALCS||NYY, 3-1||BOS, 5-4||BOS, 4-2||BOS, 10-3|
|'03 NLCS||CHC, 3-1||FLA, 4-0||FLA, 8-3||FLA, 9-6|
|'96 NLCS||STL, 3-1||ATL, 14-0||ATL, 3-1||ATL, 15-0|
|'86 ALCS||CAL, 3-1||BOS, 7-6||BOS, 10-4||BOS, 8-1|
|'85 ALCS||TOR, 3-1||KC, 2-0||KC, 5-3||KC, 6-2|
The Yankees added infielder Eduardo Nunez to their roster prior to Wednesday's Game 5, a move which makes Teixeira ineligible for the World Series, should the Yankees become just the 11th team in history to recover from a 3-1 series deficit in a best-of-seven series.
"I've never hurt my hamstring in my life," said Teixeira, who finished the ALCS hitless in 14 at-bats. "I knew something was wrong right away. It was pretty bad."
Burnett walked off to jeers after the sixth, having hoped to revive a disappointing season after posting a 5.26 ERA -- the highest for any Yankees starter in history with at least 180 innings. The Molina home run crushed those aspirations.
"That's what happens when you don't execute a pitch," Burnett said. "I was able to pretty much throw the heater where I wanted to. I got erratic at times, but I was able to make pitches. That was the only one that missed over the plate."
Burnett's final line -- five runs and six hits in six innings, with three walks (one intentional) and four strikeouts -- would not serve to curry favor. But Burnett had come out pitching with purpose, retiring the first six Rangers he faced before running into trouble in a two-run Texas third inning.
"Believe it or not, that was probably the best I've pitched in a long, long time, mixing in everything and being able to throw everything with confidence," Burnett said.
In that third, Burnett issued a leadoff walk to Murphy after getting ahead, 0-2, on the Texas left fielder and then hit Molina with a pitch to set up a sacrifice. Elvis Andrus brought in the first Rangers run with a groundout, and Young got the second run in when Burnett stumbled off the mound on a tapper and Alex Rodriguez couldn't get a throw off.
"They've got a great mojo going right now," Lance Berkman said of the Rangers. "They're a cohesive unit. You can tell they enjoy playing together, and they're dangerous."
The Yankees dented Rangers starter Tommy Hunter for three runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings, showing life after being limited to three baserunners by Cliff Lee in Game 3, but Derek Holland earned the victory with 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief.
"We like being considered the underdog going into people's places," Holland said. "They all talk about home-field advantage. We want to be able to show them there is no such thing."
New York's first run came on a disputed Robinson Cano home run, as the second baseman slugged a second-inning drive to right field that echoed Jeter's famous fan-aided homer from the 1996 ALCS.
This time, a young fan pulled in the ball after it touched the top of the fence, leading both Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz and manager Ron Washington to argue with right-field umpire Jim Reynolds. The ruling on the field stood, with the play not reviewed by instant replay.
"From the angle I had, I was very confident that the ball was in the stands," Reynolds said.
A towering Berkman shot down the right-field line two batters later, however, was reviewed and overturned after originally being called a home run. After just the third video-reviewed play in postseason history, Berkman was sent back to the plate and eventually struck out looking.
"I thought it was fair, really, to be honest with you," Berkman said. "Maybe not quite as clearly, but I looked at that replay 50 times and was like, 'Did that thing graze the foul pole?'"
It didn't take the umpires nearly as long to be convinced, so the Yankees had to deal with what counted. Jeter laced a two-out triple off Hunter in the third inning and scored the tying run at the time on a Curtis Granderson infield hit, which Ian Kinsler could get only a glove on to the right of second base.
New York took a 3-2 lead in the fourth inning, as Hunter was knocked out. Rodriguez was hit by a pitch to open the inning, and after two hits, Hunter departed in favor of Holland. Brett Gardner knocked in the go-ahead run with a fielder's-choice grounder on which Andrus made a terrific play, throwing to third base from the ground for a forceout.
But the Yankees were turned aside, time and time again, in chances to do more. Even luck eluded them -- in the eighth, Nick Swisher appeared to be brushed on the pants leg by a Darren Oliver pitch that could have forced in a run, but home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez ruled it a ball. New York finished the game with just three hits in its last 33 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"We had some chances, and we just have not been able to get that big hit," Girardi said.
Only six teams have rallied from a 3-1 series deficit in the best-of-seven LCS era -- the 2007 Red Sox, '04 Red Sox, '03 Marlins, 1996 Braves, '86 Red Sox and '85 Royals. Teams owning 3-1 advantages have advanced in 42 of 48 previous occurrences, making history just as formidable a foe as the looming presence of Lee for a potential Game 7 -- should the Yankees force it that far.
"This series is far from over," Gardner said. "I believe we've got a very, very resilient team. We've got a good lineup. We've got a good pitching staff. We've still got a chance."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.