A.J. Burnett was pitching well until Bengie Molina sent the first pitch he saw in the sixth inning into the left field seats for a three-run homer and a 5-3 lead, one the Rangers would never relinquish en route to a 10-3 victory in Game 4 and a 3-1 American League Championship Series lead.
I don't have any problem with manager Joe Girardi leaving Burnett in to face Molina. After all, up to that point, the right-hander had allowed just two runs on five hits over five-and-two-thirds innings and had thrown fewer than 100 pitches. Is that really a line that screams "take him out?"
He just made a bad pitch.
However, the decision to intentionally walk David Murphy right before Molina is somewhat curious. It's certainly not the worst move Girardi has ever made, but why put the go-ahead run on base for a guy who has killed the Yankees over the years and was 2-for-6 (.333) lifetime off Burnett, including a single in the previous inning?
Murphy was 0-for-1 on the night and 5-for-18 (.278) in his career against the Yankees starter, and if he hits a homer there, it's only a one-run deficit instead of two.
But Girardi's decision making and Burnett's bad pitch to Molina weren't the only reasons New York got blown out. The Yankees have scored just 11 runs in this series and once again failed in the clutch on Tuesday, going 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position while stranding eight runners.
Here are the grades from the Game 4 loss in the Bronx.
Joe Girardi, Manager: (C-) With runners on first and second and nobody out in the third, Ron Washington had Mitch Moreland lay down a sacrifice bunt. Yankees fans were probably aghast at such a move so early in a game, but it was the right call and led to the tying run being scored when the next batter, Elvis Andrus, grounded out to first. The bunt actually led to two runs because the next man, Michael Young, reached on an infield single when Alex Rodriguez double clutched and Molina scored.
With runners on first and second and nobody out in the fourth, the Yankees found themselves in the same situation. Up next was Nick Swisher, who is hitting .067 this series, but Girardi did not have him bunt. Instead, the right fielder struck out swinging and the baserunners could not advance. New York did scratch out a run that inning, but it could've been more if they had played small ball.
In the following frame, the Yanks found themselves in the same situation once again. This time, Mark Teixeira was up with two on and nobody out. Well, you can't have Teixeira bunt. Or can you? If David Ortiz can lay one down once in a while, certainly Teixeira can, especially if he enters the at-bat 0-for-13 in the series. Instead, the first baseman grounded into a forceout at third, got injured on the play and A-Rod followed with an inning-ending double play.
I've written this countless times, but it bears repeating: If your offense is struggling, isn't it a good idea to try to score by using bunts, steals and hit-and-runs instead of just sitting back and waiting for a three-run homer all the time?
The Yankees have put 41 men on base during this series and have stolen just one bag and laid down no successful sac bunts. The Rangers, on the other hand, have seven steals and three sac bunts.
Derek Jeter, SS: (A) The captain doubled, tripled and scored a run.
Curtis Granderson, CF: (A-) Granderson drove in a run with an infield single in the third and walked twice.
Mark Teixeira, 1B: (D-) Teixeira went 0-for-3 with a strikeout but did make a nice pick on Andrus' RBI grounder to first in the third. He strained his right hamstring running down the first-base line in the fifth and will probably be lost for the remainder of the postseason. Girardi indicated after the game that the team will probably call up Eduardo Nunez. Despite Teixeira's struggles at the plate, this is obviously a tremendous loss for an offense that has been sputtering.
Alex Rodriguez, 3B: (C) A-Rod went 0-for-2 with a walk, a hit by pitch and a run scored. After a tremendous postseason last year, Rodriguez is just 5-for-31 (.161) during these playoffs.
Robinson Cano, 2B: (A+) Cano has been the only bright spot for the Yankees in the ALCS. In the second inning, he hit his third homer of the series, a controversial shot that appeared to land over the wall; however, fans did make contact with right fielder Nelson Cruz's glove. Either way, it's ludicrous that the play was not reviewed.
Nick Swisher, RF-1B: (F) Swisher went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and is now 11-for-74 (.149) over the past two postseasons.
Lance Berkman, DH: (C) Berkman singled and struck out in four at-bats. He also missed a home run by the slimmest of margins when his second-inning drive barely missed the right-field foul pole and was correctly reversed to be called a foul ball upon review.
Brett Gardner, LF: (C+) Gardner was 1-for-4 and knocked in a run with a forceout in the fourth.
Francisco Cervelli, C: (D) Cervelli correctly got the start because Burnett has far better numbers throwing to Cervelli than Jorge Posada. Cervelli was 0-for-2 at the plate and 0-for-2 throwing out base stealers.
Marcus Thames, PR-RF: (INC) Thames pinch-ran for Teixeira and struck out in his only at-bat.
Jorge Posada, PH-C: (INC) Posada pinch-hit for Cervelli in the seventh and struck out. He finished 0-for-2.
A.J. Burnett, SP: (D) Burnett was turning in a B+ effort until that one bad pitch to Molina, but five runs over six innings isn't going to get the job done. It was still the correct decision to start Burnett in this game instead of forcing CC Sabathia, Phil Hughes and Andy Pettitte to pitch on three days' rest before Sabathia would have to do it again in a possible Game 7.
David Robertson, RP: (B+) Over the past two nights, Robertson has faced nine batters and Mariano Rivera has faced none.
Boone Logan, RP: (F) Logan's only job is to get Josh Hamilton out. Hamilton doubled off him in Game 3 and homered off him in Game 4.
Joba Chamberlain, RP: (F) These are the guys people wanted Girardi to bring in for Burnett in the sixth?
Sergio Mitre, RP: (F) It's a good thing Girardi didn't have Rivera pitch the ninth inning of Game 3, so that he could pitch two innings in Game 4.
Yankees Overall Grade: (D) The Yanks have reached the point they didn't want to reach. They now know that they must beat Cliff Lee in order to win the ALCS. But let's take it one game at a time. New York should be able to extend the series with its best pitcher on the mound Wednesday, and then it needs its lineup to come alive in support of Hughes in Game 6. It ain't over til it's over, but the Yankees must start hitting.
Follow me on Twitter at JordanHarrison. Jordan Schwartz is one of Bleacher Report's New York Yankees and College Basketball Featured Columnists. His book Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man is available at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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