A.J. Burnett can't quite deliver as Yankees fall to Rangers

By Thomas Boswell
Wednesday, October 20, 2010; 2:31 AM

NEW YORK -- When you play for the Yankees and they give you the really big money because you've got the talent to match the deal, there are nights, usually right here in the Bronx, when the city measures you by its simple tough-guy standards: thumbs up or thumbs down.

When the pinstripe season is hanging by a thread and you've fallen from favor, when the boos, the tabloid mockery and the rust of 19 days without being trusted to throw a pitch all arrive together, can you still deliver the win the Yankees are paying for?

This is your life, A.J. Burnett.

What happened to Burnett in Yankee Stadium in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series shouldn't happen to a bad guy, much less a perfectly nice one. He pitched exactly the find of game he needed to find a kind of semi-redemption. Almost.

For nearly six innings, Burnett led 3-2 and seemed to be on the verge of a solid start that might pull the Yankees even at two games apiece in this battle for a pennant. With just one more out to go in the sixth, Burnett looked like he was on the verge of escaping a unique Yankee stigma: the rich pitcher who just doesn't have the right stuff, at least not to be a Yankee.

But he never made it. That one crucial out, that one good pitch never arrived. Instead, a blast off the bat of Bengie Molina soared into the left field bleachers for a three-run homer and a 5-3 Texas lead. Then, thanks in part to two late-game home runs by Texas star Josh Hamilton, who's the only current corollary to Mickey Mantle, the Rangers waltzed to a their third straight one-sided beating of the Yanks, this time 10-3 after their previous 7-2 and 8-0 thumpings.

"We liked the way A.J. was throwing the ball all night," said Yankees Manager Joe Girardi, who ordered an intentional walk to David Murphy to get to Molina. "You think about the first two runs that he gave up -- he walked a guy, hit a guy and they ended up scoring on a groundball and an infield hit. But 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."

Now, the Yankees trail this ALCS three games to one and must, to avoid elimination, face the Rangers' three best pitchers -- C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Cliff Lee. How's that working out so far? The trio has held the Yanks to 14 hits and just five runs in 20 2/3 innings while fanning 23 men.

Since the Rangers are the former Washington Senators, 39 years removed, lets get all the "Damn Yankees" references to Joe Hardy, Lola and the devil out of the way at one time, shall we? Okay, that's it. No more of 'em. That was pretty painless, wasn't it?

No Ranger has sold his soul. Texas has just completely outplayed the Yankees, whose starting pitching hasn't been remotely close to pennant quality. Except for a five-run, eighth-inning Yankees rally in Game 1, this ALCS would already be over in a Texas sweep.

Do the Yankees look old? With Derek Jeter, 36; Jorge Posada, 39; Alex Rodriguez, 35; Mariano Rivera, 40; and Andy Pettitte, 38; are you kidding? They're just one more loss away from being issued canes. And Mark Teixeira said he heard his right hamstring "pop" as he collapsed running to first base. So, he's gone, too.

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