First things first, A.J. Burnett was terrific tonight. He pitched into the eighth inning, struck out eight and threw some great curveballs. The guy has been a monster, and tonight was one of his best starts of the year.
But it’s hard to ignore the backups. Of the Yankees four runs, two were scored by Francisco Cervelli and two were driven in by Ramiro Pena. Joba Chamberlain’s not exactly a backup, but he pitched another scoreless ninth inning while filling in for Mariano Rivera.
“Contributions by everyone tonight,” Joe Girardi said. “Guys that don’t necessarily play every day doing big things for us to win games, and that’s what a complete team does.”
As I’m sure you know, Cervelli was 3-for-3 with a triple, a bunt single, a sacrifice bunt and a tumbling catch into the Yankees dugout. “He’s maturing before our eyes,” Girardi said. “He did all the little things that you expect him to do, and did them as you can do them.”
Pena was hitless, but with the infield back, he grounded up the middle for an RBI in the third inning, and with the infield in, he drove a sac fly to right field in the eighth. “I know I don’t have that hit that I want,” Pena said. “But I’m just trying to do my job.”
Pena and Cervelli have combined for 12 starts this season, and they’ve started together twice. The Yankees are 8-2 with them in the starting lineup.
“We always say, if I’m on base, do something, or if you’re on base, I’m going to help you,” Cervelli said. “We feel so excited because we know we’re backups here and when we get a chance to play, it’s something special. Los compadres. That’s it.”
And here’s Pena.
• Burnett was at last happy with his curveball. That’s been a huge pitch throughout his career, but he hasn’t really had it working this season until tonight. “It was outstanding,” Girardi said. “Those are the things that I used to wake up and not want to see in 2008. He had that type of curveball today.”
• Funny line from Burnett about pitching to the energetic Cervelli: “He came to the mound a couple of times and I can’t help but smile at some of the stuff he says.”
• Girardi said he was happy with the way Cervelli went about that play along the rail of the dugout. He saw Cervelli sprint over, then take his time working around the steps. He said he was happier with the catch than the triple.
• Chamberlain said he wasn’t sure he would be the closer tonight. “I watched his bullpen and it looked pretty good actually so I was like, Ok, just go back to being normal.”
• The bottom of the order continues to produce for the Yankees. Two RBI and three of the team’s four runs were scored by the 7, 8 and 9 hitters.
• Girardi didn’t know about the passing of Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell until he was asked about it after the game. Girardi got choked up almost immediately and left the press conference wiping away tears. “It’s a sad day for baseball,” Girardi said. “I was fortunate enough to go to the ballpark when I believe I was with Florida and he read his poem about what baseball is. It’s special. He was a wonderful man, always great to me and he’ll be dearly missed. It’s not just a sad day in Detroit, it’s a sad day in baseball.”
Associated Press photos.