Yankees’ A.J. Burnett shuts down the Angels
A team that has been running on fumes for a few days simply ran out of gas Wednesday, the rigors of a schedule that had them playing their 40th game in 41 days and the oppressive heat of a 95-degree afternoon conspiring to sap the Angels.
“I don’t know if there has ever been an off-day more needed by our team than the one we’ll get” today, Manager Mike Scioscia said. “It’s been a grind.”
And that was said before the Angels fell completely flat in a 3-2 loss to the New York Yankees in which the Angels were 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position and struck out a season-high 15 times.
“Heck yeah,” center fielder Torii Hunter said, when asked whether the Angels needed a day off. “We needed one [Tuesday] too. Guys are going to kick back, try to get some rest.”
Did a grueling stretch in which they’ll close the season with 50 games in 52 days finally catch up with the Angels, who had three late-night flights on their last trip to New York, Boston and Texas?
“Yeah, I think so,” Hunter said. “But you can’t use that as an excuse. You’ve got to dig deep and try to find it. The Yankees did. They came through. They’re one of the best teams in baseball, and they showed that the last two days.”
The Bronx Bombers looked more like a B-squad, with four regulars who have combined for 100 home runs -- Alex Rodriguez, Nick Swisher, Johnny Damon and Jorge Posada -- out of the starting lineup.
But they still had enough to win their second game in a row over the Angels behind the pitching of A.J. Burnett (12-9), who gave up two runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings with 11 strikeouts, and an offense that bunched four hits during a three-run fourth inning against starter Scott Kazmir (9-9).
The Angels trimmed a 3-0 deficit to 3-2 when Bobby Abreu hit a run-scoring groundout in the fifth inning and Gary Matthews Jr. hit a run-scoring double in the sixth.
But their failure to come through in the clutch prevented them from doing too much damage to Burnett and five relievers, including Mariano Rivera, who closed out the ninth inning for his 42nd save.
Mike Napoli singled and Chone Figgins doubled to open the fifth, putting runners on second and third, but the rally netted only one run when Erick Aybar struck out, Abreu grounded out and Hunter flied to right field.
Figgins flied out with two on to end the sixth, Kendry Morales struck out with a runner on third to end the seventh, and Aybar, after swinging at the first two pitches -- inside breaking balls that nearly hit him -- flied out with the bases loaded to end the eighth.
“There’s no way you’re going to strike out 15 times, go 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position and win a ballgame,” Scioscia said. “The quality of at-bats with runners in scoring position was not there. That’s been a cornerstone of our offense.”
Indeed, the Angels led the major leagues with a .307 average with runners in scoring position through August. In 23 games in September, they are batting .239 (45 for 188) with runners in scoring position.
“We went from a team that was getting its share of hits with runners in scoring position to a team that’s near the bottom in that category this month,” Scioscia said. “On the flip side, we’re pitching better than we have all season. But we need to get more balance.”
Kazmir looked as if he might escape the fourth when left fielder Juan Rivera threw out Mark Teixeira at the plate, but Robinson Cano hit a two-out, two-run single, and Melky Cabrera followed with a run-scoring double for a 3-0 lead.
“It was a frustrating day,” Scioscia said.