CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

As A.J. struggles, Yanks stalled in playoff push

As A.J. struggles, Yanks stalled in playoff push

TORONTO -- Nearly two years to the date after A.J. Burnett acknowledged a standing ovation after leaving this very mound, tantalizing the Yankees with a glimpse of his potential, the mercurial right-hander gave his current team reason for concern.

Burnett was torched for seven runs and was pulled in the third inning as the Yankees fell short of locking up a playoff spot Monday, suffering a 7-5 loss to the Blue Jays that raised serious questions about Burnett's effectiveness in a potential postseason start.

Home runs from Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira were not enough as the Yankees lost for the fifth time in six games, remaining a half-game behind the Rays in the American League East. Their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is still at one.

More

"He didn't have his good stuff tonight, and that's going to happen," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Burnett. "He was big for us in the playoffs last year, but I'm not going to talk a whole lot about the playoffs until we know we're in. We've got to get there first, and we're not in."

Two of Burnett's last three outings had been cut short due to rain, but on a drizzly Toronto evening, the retractable roof of the Rogers Centre made that a near-impossibility. Still, a five-run third inning may have made the Yankees wish for a reset button.

"The way my season's been, I'm not going to let it affect me," said Burnett, who is 10-15 with a 5.33 ERA. "I've been through way worse nights than tonight, and I'm going to have way worse nights than tonight. It's a matter of turning the page and getting over it, realizing what went wrong and fixing it. "

Already up 2-0 on a Jose Bautista RBI groundout and John Buck's 19th home run, Toronto batted around in the third against Burnett. The big blow came on Vernon Wells' 31st home run, a three-run shot to left field on a hanging breaking ball that put the Blue Jays up by five runs.

"A.J. is a guy who, once he gets in his comfort zone, he can dominate," Wells said. "I think guys took advantage of whatever mistakes he made. With him, you have to take advantage of the situations and guys were able to do that tonight."

Buck chased Burnett with an RBI single, and Edwin Encarnacion drove in the last run of the inning with a sacrifice fly off reliever Jonathan Albaladejo, closing the book on Burnett after seven hits, a walk and a strikeout in 2 1/3 innings.

"He wasn't able to locate his fastball," Girardi said. "He pulled some, and his curveball didn't really have the good bite tonight that we've seen the last three or four starts."

Burnett was derisively cheered by the same Toronto fan base that had warmly received him on Sept. 24, 2008, under much different circumstances, tipping his cap that day before opting out of his deal with the Blue Jays and agreeing to a five-year, $82.5 million contract with the Yankees.

Since Aug. 1, Burnett -- who was the Yankees' No. 2 starter in last year's postseason and contributed a big outing in Game 2 of the World Series -- is 1-7 with a 6.16 ERA. He has now allowed at least six runs in a game a Major League-leading 10 times.

"It's something we've got to keep working on, definitely," Girardi said. "He's put some good starts together and tonight was not a good one. He got hit hard tonight, there's no doubt about it."

Even though Girardi dodged numerous questions on the topic, only going as far as to say Burnett has one more start remaining this weekend in Boston, Burnett believes he will be included past game 162.

"Yeah, I would expect to start in the postseason," Burnett said. "I just want the ball. Whatever Joe decides, it's Joe's decision."

The Yankees were handled early by left-hander Marc Rzepczynski, who tied a career high with nine strikeouts, including six straight beginning in the second inning.

"We faced him a few times this year and I've never seen him that good," Teixeira said. "His ball was moving everywhere. It was like swinging against a ghost out there, you didn't know what it was going to do -- cut, sink, backdoor sliders, changeups. He was really good for the first four or five innings."

Granderson closed the gap in the fifth with his third home run in the last four games, a two-run shot to right field, his 24th. Rzepczynski was done after five innings, allowing just those two runs on four hits, with three walks.

The Yankees closed within two runs in the seventh after Derek Jeter beat out an infield hit, tangling with Toronto reliever Brian Tallet and ruled safe at first base. After a Nick Swisher single, Teixeira crushed his 32nd home run into the center-field black, a three-run shot.

"Our guys want to get in the playoffs," Girardi said. "They played the whole night. You didn't see them quit when we got down, 7-0. They just kept playing. This is baseball, this happens. Sometimes things don't go exactly the way you draw them up. You've just got to keep going at it."

New York's bullpen did the job behind Burnett, holding the Blue Jays scoreless the rest of the way, but the Yankees fell flat in the eighth and ninth innings against Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg, pushing any potential celebrations back for yet another day.

"Hopefully it means we're getting it out of our system," Teixeira said. "We haven't played good baseball. That's starters, offense, defense, everything. Let's get this out of our system, and when hopefully we do make the playoffs and have a chance to win a World Series, we're going to start playing better."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Less