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Yanks can’t overcome Burnett’s bad night

August 20, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — As he walked off the mound following another rough outing Saturday, right-hander A.J. Burnett was clearly upset about being taken out. So upset, in fact, that he appeared to have some choice words for Yankees manager Joe Girardi as he walked away.

According to Burnett and Girardi, though, what appeared to happen was not what actually occurred when Girardi removed Burnett after only five outs in the Yankees’ 9-4 loss to the Twins.

Burnett acknowledged that he did say something as he walked away, but it was directed to catcher Russell Martin.

And Girardi said he went into the tunnel after Burnett did in order to take a second look at Burnett’s last pitch to Joe Mauer. Burnett said his remark had to do with that pitch as well.

“Everyone always seems to want to blow up about A.J.,” Girardi said. “Nothing happened between me and A.J. I went and looked at the pitch. And I’m tired of it. I’m tired of people looking for something between me and A.J.”

Said Burnett: “I told [Girardi], ‘Not you.’ Russ came out, he said, ‘That’s a strike.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s …’ No, I was not talking to Joe, absolutely not. No matter how mad I get, that guy’s taken my back every day I’ve been here.”

The situation between Burnett and Girardi almost overshadowed the fact that Burnett lasted just 1 2/3 innings on the night, giving up seven runs on five hits and three walks with a strikeout.

It was Burnett’s shortest start since he threw just one inning on June 30, 2004, at Atlanta while a member of the Marlins. His 61 pitches thrown also were his fewest since Sept. 27, 2010, at Toronto, when he tossed 48.

Burnett’s outing was the shortest for a Yankees starter since Tim Redding went just one inning on July 15, 2005, at Boston, and the shortest for the Yankees against the Twins since Mike Witt recorded only one out on June 13, 1991.

“Yeah, it’s upsetting, it’s frustrating,” Burnett said. “You want to come out and set the tone as a starter. Obviously, I didn’t do that, but I will be better. I know that.”

It started with Burnett giving up two runs on a pair of doubles in the first inning, and it only got worse from there for the Yankees. Twins third baseman Danny Valencia homered to lead off a five-run second inning that also featured a double, two singles and four walks.

After issuing his third walk of the inning, Burnett was relieved by Luis Ayala. While he had managed a win in his last start, Burnett has given up 61 hits and 38 earned runs in 49 1/3 innings over his last nine starts, for a 1-3 record and 6.93 ERA

“We need this guy to pitch, that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “We need him to pitch like he’s capable of pitching. He has struggled, his last few starts he has struggled. We’ve got to get him back on track.”

It was 4-0 when Burnett left the game, but a walk and a single allowed by Ayala resulted in three Twins runs. Ayala also pitched the third inning, finishing with two hits and one walk allowed over 1 1/3 innings pitched.

Eduardo Nunez scored the Yankees’ first run of the game in the third inning, doubling with one out and later coming around to score on a single and a throwing error. Curtis Granderson drove in Brett Gardner for another in the eighth, his 97th RBI of the season, and Francisco Cervelli followed with a single to drive in Jorge Posada.

Andruw Jones hit his ninth homer of the season with one out in the ninth inning to close out the Yankees’ scoring.

Lefty Aaron Laffey made his Yankees debut in the fourth, and he tossed three innings while allowing two runs on five hits and two walks, with two strikeouts.

Twins left-hander Francisco Liriano struggled in the third inning, but was otherwise in control most of the night. He went seven innings, allowing just one unearned run on three hits and three walks. Liriano also struck out six batters.

For Liriano, it was his first career win against the Yankees, as the Twins snapped their three-game losing streak against New York. Their nine runs were the most the Twins have scored against the Yankees since June 5, 2005.

“It’s kind of a long, overdue feeling,” Valencia said of the win. “We’ve played these guys tough, but at the same time we’ve come up empty-handed a bunch. So it’s nice to come out and win, and win kind of big.

“The Yankees score a lot of runs, you have to score a bunch of runs to beat them.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Longoria leads Rays’ power surge vs. Twins

July 6, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — All series, Evan Longoria kept hitting the ball hard, but right at someone.

When the hits finally started falling Wednesday afternoon — especially in key late-game situations — it made a big difference for Longoria and the Rays.

After scoring only two runs in the first two games of the series, the Rays put a dozen across in the finale against the Twins, including a four-run eighth inning and a three-run ninth for a 12-5 victory.

“We’ve been battling so far on this road trip,” Longoria said, “and to be able to come through with a hit like that — [which] kind of opened up the floodgates a little bit for us — it’s a pretty good feeling.”

Longoria singled to left in the eighth off Minnesota reliever Alex Burnett, driving in the go-ahead run for Tampa Bay. As if that wasn’t enough, he added a three-run home run in the ninth for good measure — his 11th of the season.

After picking up just three hits, one home run and four RBIs while batting .115 in his previous seven games, Longoria matched those hit, home run and RBI totals in the series finale against the Twins.

His reward for his performance? Sitting out the bottom of the ninth to rest his sore left foot as the Rays closed out the game.

“If he had not hit that home run, he would’ve had to go out in the ninth inning,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But he hit the home run and I got him off his feet.

“I kind of discussed it with him. I didn’t say, ‘If you hit a home run you’re coming out of the game,’ but it kind of worked out that way.”

Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach got the offense going with a two-run homer in the second, and second baseman Sean Rodriguez added another two-run blast in the eighth. Then, Longoria capped the scoring with his ninth-inning blast.

Between the first two home runs, Tampa Bay put two across in the fourth on two hits, two walks and a hit batter. It added another run in the fifth with a walk and two singles that knocked Twins starter Francisco Liriano out of the game.

Liriano went just 4 1/3 innings, giving up five runs on six hits, four walks, three hit batters and four strikeouts.

“He had no command of his fastball, none,” Maddon said of Liriano. “If we had just taken [pitches], we would’ve had a lot of walks, because we were chasing outside the zone. He was not attacking the zone at all.”

Rays leadoff hitter Johnny Damon was hit twice by Liriano — the second knocking him out of the game with a contusion on his left hand. Sam Fuld replaced Damon, going 2-for-3 with a walk.

X-rays on Damon’s hand came back negative, and he is considered day-to-day.

The 12 runs marked the fourth time this season Tampa Bay had reached double digits offensively, and the second time this year in six games at Target Field. Thanks to the breakout performance by the offense, the Rays overcame a less-than-stellar start by right-hander Wade Davis.

“I thought that it was probably some of the worst stuff that I’ve had all year,” Davis said. “But I battled through it … and it’s a good win for us.”

Davis went five innings, giving up four runs (three earned) on nine hits and three walks. He struck out just one batter.

In the crucial eighth inning, Fuld singled with one out and Ben Zobrist followed with a walk. Longoria then plated the go-ahead run with a single, and a safety squeeze scored Zobrist on a bunt by B.J. Upton.

Rodriguez made it a four-run game with his fourth home run of the season. All four runs in the eighth were allowed by reliever Alex Burnett, who took the loss.

“They have some really good hitters. They can do a lot of things,” said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. “They can handle the bat and they have a couple guys who can pop it.”

After going 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position during the first two games of the series, the Rays were 7-for-14 in those situations Wednesday.

Even with all the offense, though, Maddon was not satisfied with his team’s performance.

“You cannot let those opportunities slip,” Maddon said. “We made a lot of subtle mistakes today that we’ve got to do better with if we expect to go back [to the playoffs] — which we do. We were fortunate to get by today.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Twins can’t halt Angels’ big 8th in loss

May 27, 2011 Comments off

MINNEAPOLIS — Typically, a five-run lead after seven innings makes it a pretty safe bet to expect a win. With the Twins bullpen, that has not exactly been the case.

After right-hander Scott Baker delivered a strong performance with seven scoreless innings Friday night, he handed the ball over to Alex Burnett. Along with the rest of the bullpen, Burnett allowed the Angels to put up five runs in the eighth and plate another in the ninth for the 6-5 victory at Target Field.

After tossing 106 pitches through seven innings, it seemed like a no-brainer to take Baker out of the game and bring in the bullpen for two innings. In hindsight, it becomes easy to wonder if he could have been more effective than the bullpen in the eighth.

“Why push it at that point in the game?” Baker said. “You play the game like you’re going to win the game. You’ve got pitchers out there that can get some outs and I think we’re going to continue to believe that if you have a five-run lead, that there’s guys out there that can get some outs and we win the ball game.”

It all started with a grounder to first, which became an infield single as Burnett was slow in covering the base. He then walked a batter before leaving the game.

Lefty Dusty Hughes entered the game, and on the first pitch he threw to Erick Aybar, surrendered a three-run home run to kick start the rally.

“Aybar’s three-run jack kind of lifted us up, got us going,” former Twins center fielder Torii Hunter said. “We were making jokes, laughing in the dugout. Scott Baker was beating us with a fastball. He had late life on his fastball. After seven shutout innings, you’ve got to get somebody to give you a spark. That’s what Aybar did.”

Hughes allowed another runner to reach base on an error before the end of his night. Right-hander Jim Hoey, in his first game back with the big league club, relieved Hughes and promptly gave up a double to Hunter.

That double was followed by a single and a sacrifice fly, tying the ballgame at five runs apiece.

Through 49 games this season, the Twins bullpen has allowed 49 runs in the eighth inning. After the game, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire was asked if he felt “skittish” about bringing a reliever in to pitch with the way they’ve performed through nearly two months.

“That’s who we had, those guys have to get it done,” Gardenhire answered. “That’s who we have, that’s who we are, that’s who has to pitch. Skittish, I don’t know. Nervous, absolutely, because we’re not getting the job done.”

Gardenhire noted after the game that Joe Nathan and Anthony Swarzak were unavailable to pitch, and closer Matt Capps was not going to come in until the ninth if he did pitch.

Hoey was the only reliever to record an out, but he surrendered the lead and the game in the ninth. Peter Bourjos led off the inning with a triple to left center, and scored one batter later on a Maicer Izturis single to right.

Burnett, Hughes, and Hoey combined to record only three outs, while giving up six runs on seven hits and one walk. All of this ruined Baker’s best start since May 6.

Baker tossed seven shutout innings to put himself in line for the win, giving up six hits while striking out six batters without a walk. Only twice, in the first and seventh innings, did Baker allow more than one Angels hitter to reach base in an inning.

It was first time since that same May 6 start in Boston that Baker went at least seven innings.

“He gave us everything we needed to win a ball game,” Gardenhire said. “He was in the zone, used his breaking ball, moved the ball in and out, had a decent changeup, and after the first couple innings, he settled in and just cruised.”

Also negated by the bullpen’s performance was a strong game by the top of the order, especially Alexi Casilla. It started with Denard Span’s walk to lead off the game, and Casilla followed with a double to put the Twins up 1-0 early.

Casilla would have had a triple on the play, had he not returned to first after missing the base. He did triple in the third, and was driven in by Jason Kubel. Casilla added another double in the seventh.

After consecutive 2-for-3 games against the Mariners, Casilla went 3-for-4 on the night, with all three hits going for extra bases. He has now gone 7-for-10 over his last three games with three doubles, a triple, a stolen base and four runs scored.

“He’s been swinging good, he’s been playing aggressive,” Gardenhire said. “That’s what we have to have from him, that’s what we would love to see, just exactly what he’s done the last few ball games.”

Michael Cuddyer also became the 14th player in Twins history to record 1,000 hits with the club, knocking a two-out single in the ninth inning.

It was a bittersweet moment for Cuddyer, though, who said afterward he would have traded the 1,000th hit for a win.

“It’s tough. It seems like something has happened every game now,” Cuddyer said. “Whether it’s [blowing a lead] or not hitting. It’s almost like we’re snakebit. We have to figure out how to win a game.”

As one of the leaders in the clubhouse, Cuddyer has been asked many times about all the Twins losses, but he has no better solution than anyone else.

“It’s the million-dollar question,” he said. “I wish we knew and we could put a finger on it because we’d definitely do it. It’s not fun for us either. I know everybody’s frustrated — fans are frustrated — but we’re as frustrated as anybody. It’s tough.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.