MARLINS 2, YANKEES 1
The New York Yankees never faced Josh Johnson. Judging by what they saw Saturday night they came away very impressed.
Johnson stymied the Yankees for seven innings as the Marlins beat the team from the Bronx 2-1 at Land Shark Stadium in Miami.
Johnson kept Yankee batters off balance all night with his mix of two-seam fastballs and changeups, forcing them to hit into 14 ground-ball outs of the 21 outs he recorded. Five others struck out, usually on changeups.
“I think he’s one of the best pitchers in the league,” Johnny Damon told MLB.com. “I usually put him up top five in the league right now. Probably on his best day, he could be the best out there.”
Johnson’s mound opponent, A.J. Burnett, was nearly as dominating in his first return to Miami since he left the Marlins after the 2005 season. Burnett allowed only one earned run over 6 1/3 innings, gave up six hits and struck out eight batters. But it was not enough to beat Johnson (7-1) and the Marlins.
Burnett’s lone mistake came in the second inning. Facing feast or famine second baseman Dan Uggla, who came into the game with 12 home runs but a batting average of .216, Burnett fell behind in the count 1-0 and decided to try a high inside fastball.
Uggla, who was looking for it, deposited it in the centerfield stands to give the Marlins an early 1-0 lead. Johnson took care of the rest by pitching five consecutive innings in which he faced the minimum three batters. He also showed an economy of pitches with three straight innings of 11 pitches or less.
The Yankees hopes of a rally off Johnson or the Marlins bullpen took a major hit in the sixth inning. Burnett opened the frame by walking speedy third baseman Emilio Bonifacio. However, while pitching to All-Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez, Jorge Posada gunned down Bonifacio trying to steal second base. It was the second time in the game Posada had gunned down a Marlins baserunner.
Burnett, however, walked Ramirez. Then the game took an ugly turn in the field. Jorge Cantu lined a 1-2 pitch into leftfield towards Damon in what looked to be a routine out. But the ball ticked off Damon’s glove and rolled past him, allowing Ramirez to score from first base.
The additional run would prove to be fortuitous for the Marlins and deadly to the Yankees. For his part, Damon made no excuses to MLB.com: “That’s totally unacceptable,” he 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.”
The Yankees did manage to get to Johnson in the top of the seventh inning after two were out. Posada reached first base on a fielder’s choice groundout for the second out but Robinson Cano followed with a ground single up the middle. Posada made it to third base on the hit.
Nick Swisher then plated Posada with a single to rightfield. Johnson then bore down and struck out Melky Cabrera on three pitches.
The Marlins had to go to their bullpen in the eighth inning with Johnson having thrown 103 pitches. Yankee batters were very happy they did. Marlins Manager Freddi Gonzalez summoned Leo Nunez to open the frame.
He immediately was greeted by a line-drive single to rightfield by Hideki Matsui, the Yankees DH who has been relegated to pinch-hit duty in this series at a National League park. Speedy Brett Gardner came off he bench to pinch-run for Matsui.
Manager Joe Girardi then called on All-Star third baseman Alex Rodriguez to pinch-hit for relief pitcher Phil Coke. A-Rod has not started either game of this series because of what he termed “fatigue” following arthroscopic hip surgery in March. He also has been mired in a 3 for his last 34 slump.
With Rodriguez at the plate, Gardner stole second base off Nunez and catcher John Baker. A-Rod then managed to coax a walk, giving the Yankees their best scoring threat of the evening.
Derek Jeter came to the plate with a chance to score the runners with a hit or move them up with a bunt. However, with one strike on him Jeter popped a bunt attempt foul. Forced to swing away, Jeter hit a weak grounder right to second base. Uggla scooped up the ball, tapped the second base bag to retire Rodriguez and fired to first to double up Jeter.
Rally effectively killed.
“I didn’t execute, that’s the bottom line,” Jeter told MLB.com later. “It was a big part of the game, and I didn’t get the bunt down.”
The Marlins then called lefty Dan Meyer out of bullpen to pitch to Damon. He struck Damon out and the Yankees stranded Gardner at third and were left to ponder what might have been if only Jeter had got the bunt down.
Marlins closer Matt Lindstrom preserved Johnson’s victory with a ninth inning that ended on yet a another double play off the bat of Robinson Cano.
The Yankees have now lost four out their past six games against pitchers they have not faced before dating back to June 13. It also saddled Burnett (5-4) with a loss he really did not deserve.
“Both guys were really good,” Joe Girardi said. “Our guy, A.J., I thought he threw the ball great. It’s unfortunate that Josh Johnson was really good, too.”
The “other guy” was better is becoming a familiar Yankee theme in June.
CC Sabathia (6-4, 3.47 ERA) will try to slow that trend Sunday afternoon when he faces Chris Volstad (4-7, 4.75 ERA). One thing in the Yankees favor is that Volstad is coming off his worst two major-league starts. He yielded 8 runs to the Red Sox last Tuesday after being tagged for 6 runs by the Cardinals in his previous start.
But the 22-year-old righthander also is the sixth consecutive pitcher the Yankees have not faced before. So Volstad has that in his favor. Sabathia will have to again be good and the Yankees will just have to hope that Volstad is not better.
Gametime is 5:10 p.m. EDT.