Burnett one-upped by Marlins' Johnson

Burnett one-upped by Marlins' Johnson

MIAMI -- The remarkable part about Saturday's game was that the Yankees were effectively no-hit for six innings by one of the best pitchers in the National League, and yet they still had a chance to win. Against his former team, A.J. Burnett was that good -- even if the rest of the Yankees were not.

But it's difficult to criticize the Yankees batters who struck out, popped out and grounded balls meekly across the infield against Josh Johnson, the 25-year-old ace of this Marlins staff. As good as Burnett was, Johnson was markedly better. And so the Yankees went relatively quietly in a 2-1 loss.

"Both guys were really good," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Our guy, A.J., I thought he threw the ball great. It's unfortunate that Josh Johnson was really good, too."

Yet Burnett, aside from a Dan Uggla solo homer in the second inning, was matching Johnson zero for zero until the seventh. Then, with a man on first base, Johnson served up a line drive to Jorge Cantu. Recognizing the slice of the ball, from left to center field, Johnny Damon scooted under it and stretched out his glove.

The ball bounced off it and fell to the turf. And Damon, who last week missed a game with what he called a "fluttering" sensation in his eyes, made no excuses for an error that provided the final margin.

"That's totally unacceptable," Damon said. "It's amazing. There have been a lot of plays that I've messed up this year. I'm definitely a much better defender than that."

And a much better hitter than he showed on Saturday -- though that shortcoming wasn't entirely his fault. Mixing in far more changeups than he did in recent games, Johnson stymied a Yankees team that came away from its pregame video sessions expecting fastballs and sliders -- and little else.

Until the seventh inning, the Yankees had mustered just one hit off Johnson -- Burnett's bloop single in the third. And though they singled twice more in the seventh, only one of those hits produced a run. After Nick Swisher singled home Jorge Posada with two outs, Melky Cabrera struck out to end the threat.

"I think he's one of the best pitchers in the league," Damon said. "I usually put him up top five in the league right now. Probably on his best day, he could be the best out there."

Saturday ranked among Johnson's best days. And still the Yankees had a chance to win, pouncing on the Marlins bullpen as soon as Johnson left the game. After pinch-hitter Hideki Matsui singled and his pinch-runner, Brett Gardner, stole second base, Alex Rodriguez made his first appearance of the series with a walk.

The Yankees, for the first time, were in business. But it didn't last.

Asked to bunt, Derek Jeter twice could not lay a sacrifice down the line. And with two strikes, he grounded weakly up the middle for a double play. Business hours were over.

"I didn't execute, that's the bottom line," Jeter said. "It was a big part of the game, and I didn't get the bunt down."

For the fourth time in eight days, the Yankees lost to a pitcher they had never previously faced. But Johnson was not like the others. A potential National League Cy Young Award candidate, Johnson has added a few ticks to his fastball and a bit of movement to his changeup since Girardi managed him with the Marlins in 2006.

He played the role of what players like to call a buzz saw. And he played it remarkably well.

"He's a young kid that's got a good feel for the game," said Burnett, whom many in South Florida once described the exact same way.

In an 11-year career, Burnett entered Saturday's game having beaten every big league team but the Marlins, his employer for seven of those seasons. Burnett's battle with Johnson marked a homecoming for a pitcher who hadn't returned to Miami since he left the Fish after the 2005 season.

"I was looking forward to it on the airplane," Burnett said. "You get on that big old mound they got there in this big old ballpark. It was nice to get out there."

In front of the third-largest regular-season crowd in the history of Land Shark Stadium -- 46,427 fans, several of them wearing Yankees blue -- Burnett dazzled in many of the same ways as Johnson. He, too, mixed in more changeups than usual, at one point recording six straight outs via strikeout. Burnett struck out the side on nine pitches in the third, then emphatically pumped his right fist after striking out the side again in the fourth.

At that point, Burnett still assumed that he had a chance to win -- and if not for a Damon gaffe, an un-Jeter-like lack of execution and a well-placed buzz saw, it's natural to think he would have.

"We had everything going," Posada said. "The fastball was great. The curveball was even better. He did everything possible to give us a win."

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