ANAHEIM, Calif. - A.J. Burnett got off to a shaky start in his third playoff game. His final inning wasn’t pretty either.
The postseason rookie failed to deliver a closeout victory for the New York Yankees in the American League championship series.
Burnett got torched for four runs in the first inning Thursday night against Los Angeles and couldn’t hold a Yankees lead when he started the seventh. The Angels rallied for a 7-6 win to cut New York’s ALCS lead to 3-2, with the series shifting back to the East Coast for Saturday’s Game 6.
The loss conjured up memories of 2004, when the Yankees led Boston 3-0 in the ALCS and lost four consecutive games to fall out of the postseason altogether. They haven’t been in the World Series since 2003.
“I feel like I let this squad down, no doubt,” Burnett said. “My confidence isn’t shot, it’s more of having to look at these guys the rest of the night hurts.”
Burnett allowed the first five Angels batters to reach on 12 pitches. Torii Hunter singled to center for his first two RBIs of the series, Vladimir Guerrero drove the next pitch to left-center for an RBI double and Kendry Morales capped the rally with a run-scoring single.
No Yankees starter had given up more than three runs in any postseason game this year; Burnett allowed four before recording an out in the first.
He also had a wild pitch in the third, giving him three in the LCS, one off the career record of four.
Manager Joe Girardi decided to stick with Burnett after New York’s six-run seventh, and Los Angeles capitalized.
Jeff Mathis singled and Erick Aybar walked against Burnett, who then turned it over to Damaso Marte. The Angels wound up scoring three times to take a 7-6 lead and held on for the win.
“It’s tough to watch because your team just came back after you’ve been battling the whole game, and gave you a couple, they gave me the lead,” Burnett said.
“First batter hits, then the next batter walks. It’s frustrating. These guys, you know what they’re about. You hope they explode and then they do and you do that. It’s a little tough to swallow.”
Girardi said he considered replacing Burnett before the seventh.
“He put up five shutout innings. He had only thrown 80 pitches. We just liked what we saw from him, and we stuck with him,” he said. “If he’s around 105 pitches, it’s probably a different story. But because his pitch count was low, he felt great, we stuck with him.”
The Yankees will fly their cases of champagne to the Bronx, where the forecast for Game 6 calls for a 90 percent chance of rain. New York’s Andy Pettitte is set to face fellow left-hander Joe Saunders.
Burnett gave up six runs and eight hits in six-plus innings, making him the weak link in the Yankees’ three-man rotation that includes CC Sabathia and Pettitte.
“A.J. did a hell of a job to really keep us in the game,” said catcher Jorge Posada, who was on the bench at the start of the game and hit for Jose Molina in the fifth. “Four runs early, but he really got better and better as he went along so it was good to see. He really gave us a chance to win. That’s all you can ask for. He was great.”
Sabathia and Burnett signed with the Yankees last winter but have had much different results in their first postseason with New York. Sabathia is 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA and 20 strikeouts in 22 2-3 innings.
Pettitte is 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA. His next win will make him baseball’s top postseason pitcher with 15 career victories.
Burnett is still finding his way in his first playoffs after 10 years in the majors.
The right-hander got a no-decision in Game 2 against the Angels. He had the same result in Game 2 of the division series against Minnesota, but his latest outing was his worst of all.
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