Yankees lose after Twins get to A.J. Burnett early

MINNEAPOLIS -- The game was already out of hand when A.J. Burnett glumly gave his manager the ball -- and the Minnesota Twins were still batting in the second inning.

Burnett can't have many more starts like these if he's going to stay in the New York Yankees' rotation.

Jason Kubel had three hits and two RBIs and Danny Valencia homered to lead the Twins past the New York Yankees 9-4 on Saturday, leaving Burnett at a loss to explain why he followed his first August win in three years with another rough turn.

"I've got to be better, and I know that," Burnett said.

Francisco Liriano (9-9) threw seven stellar innings for the Twins, who played like they were taking a decade's worth of frustration out against their nemesis. This was just their 20th win in 81 games against the Yankees over the last 10 seasons, including the playoffs.

"Feels good," Valencia said. "It's kind of a long overdue feeling."

Burnett (9-10) was the one who was bummed out on this night, though. He shouted a few curse words while leaving the mound, upset at a call that gave Joe Mauer a walk to load the bases. On the television screen, Burnett appeared to be angry at manager Joe Girardi, but both men vehemently denied any tension between them afterward.

"I'm tired of people looking for something between me and A.J.," an irate Girardi said. "Me and A.J. have mutual respect for each other. I cheer for this guy. He cheers for me, and we cheer for this team. I want the guy to do well."

The Yankees still stayed a half-game ahead of the Red Sox in the American League East race, because Boston lost at Kansas City. But this was not the kind of performance the Yankees, who are searching for some stability in their rotation for the stretch run and presumably the postseason behind stalwart CC Sabathia, were looking for.

"We need this guy to pitch. That's the bottom line. We need him to pitch like he's capable of pitching," Girardi said.

Burnett was charged with seven runs for the second time in his last four starts, giving up five hits and three walks while recording only five outs. He fell to 1-4 in his last nine starts and saw his ERA soar from 4.61 to 4.96. The Yankees are using a six-man rotation for now with a doubleheader coming next week, and Girardi said he has no intention of taking Burnett out.

"He's been nothing but supportive, and he's right: I'm going to bounce back," Burnett said.

In the third year of a five-year, $82.5 million contract, Burnett has drawn the ire of Yankees fans for his unreliability and inconsistency. He threw two wild pitches, one that let a run score, and left plenty of others over the plate for the Twins to whack around the ballpark.

But Girardi didn't waver.

"I don't ever lose confidence in my players. This game is hard," he said.

Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Joe Mauer and Luke Hughes each had two hits for the Twins, and Revere and Justin Morneau drove in two runs apiece.

Valencia's first-pitch drive into the bullpen started the second inning, and Revere ripped a line drive up the middle that Burnett could only swat at with his glove before it fell in for an RBI single and a 4-0 advantage for the Twins. Burnett left the bases loaded for Luis Ayala, who walked Morneau to force in another run and gave up a two-run single to Kubel.

Ball four to Mauer, the Yankees argued, should've been a strike.

"If it missed, it missed by an inch or two," catcher Russell Martin said.

He told Burnett as much as his batterymate left the mound, when Burnett said he snapped his head back to obscenely shout his agreement.

"But you're not going to give somebody a strike who's all over the zone," he acknowledged later.

Liriano left with a 9-1 lead, allowing only one unearned run, due to a throwing error by the second baseman Hughes in the third inning. The left-hander turned in his best start in more than two months, surrendering just three hits and three walks while striking out six. He lowered his ERA from 5.12 to 4.85.

Left-hander Aaron Laffey, who joined the team in the afternoon for the first time after being claimed off waivers from the Seattle Mariners, made his Yankees debut out of the bullpen. He pitched three innings, giving up five hits, two walks and two runs -- both in the fifth after letting four straight batters reach to start the frame.

Game notes
Laffey grew up in western Maryland as a Yankees fan. "It's definitely a storied tradition here," he said. "They're in it every year. Every little kid wants to grow up and be a New York Yankee." ... Umpire Brian O'Nora was out due to a personal medical matter, leaving a three-man crew to work the game. ... RHP Ivan Nova (12-4) will pitch for the Yankees in Sunday's series finale. They return home for a three-game set with Oakland starting Tuesday before embarking on another seven-game road trip. ... Nova leads all major league rookies this season in victories. He's 8-0 in his last nine starts. ... Nick Blackburn (7-10) is scheduled to take the mound for the Twins.