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By Neil Keefe

I guess it was only fitting that on the night the Yankees lost sole possession of first place in the AL East for the first time in 42 days, the two losing pitchers to cause this happened to be the Carl Pavano and A.J. Burnett.

From June 20 to August 1, the Yankees sat alone on top of the AL East Mountain. Now they don’t. But it didn’t have to be this way. It didn’t have to be this way if Joe Girardi didn’t want it to be.

Somewhere between going to Tampa Bay with a two-game lead and losing to the Blue Jays on Monday night at home, Girardi decided to shake up a good thing. He decided that cruising through July was too easy, and he decided he needed to fix something that wasn’t broken.

Back in May, I wrote a piece as if I got to host The Joe Girardi Show instead of Michael Kay. With the Yankees enduring their first slump in over a month, I think it’s time for another episode of My Joe Girardi Show. Here are my questions for Joe:

What were you doing that was so important during the fifth inning on Monday that it took you as long as it did to take out A.J. Burnett?

Note: If you don’t know the three grades of A.J. Burnett meltdowns, then please inform yourself for the purpose of this section.

A.J. Burnett is 33 years old. He is 109-94 in his career. It’s safe to say we know who he is and what he is going to be for the rest of his career at this point. And no matter how hard Michael Kay tried to get Al Leiter to admit that Burnett sucks during Monday’s broadcast, Al wouldn’t succumb to the pressure. Al wouldn’t throw a fellow pitcher and former teammate under the bus, so I will do it for him.

Burnett scares the crap out me. He scares the crap out of me in the way that it would be unhealthy for me to watch him start a postseason game right now. And he scares the crap out of me in the way that we are only in the second year of his five-year deal, and I’m wishing I had the remote control from the movie Click so I could fast forward through the next three-plus years of his career with the Yankees.

On Monday night, A.J. Burnett started off on fire, and then quickly entered the early stages of a Grade 1 meltdown before being downgraded to a tropical storm. But after putting up zeroes in the third and fourth, the night quickly escalated to a Grade 3 meltdown. It all happened so fast in typical A.J. Burnett meltdown fashion: from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds.

In June, when A.J. was going as bad as you can go in the majors leagues as a starting pitching without getting traded, sent down or designated for assignment, I created a system of measurement to determine which Burnett would show up on any given fifth day.

Here is my definition of a Grade 3 A.J. meltdown from that June piece:

“You think A.J. has had his bad inning for the night and that he will enter cruise control, only to have the game unravel in a matter of pitches – and once that second crooked number starts to take shape, there is no stopping it until he is removed from the game.”

Why isn’t Girardi aware of this? How does he not know that there is no fixing Burnett mid-game? He either has it or he doesn’t, and he isn’t about to make an adjustment in the middle of a start or try to battle through without his best stuff. On Monday, he clearly didn’t have it in the fifth inning, but Joe stood in the dugout and watched a bonfire turn into a forest fire before he decided to put it out. The following happened in the fifth inning before Joe pulled A.J. …

Double
Home run
Walk
Double
Fielder’s choice
Double
Double
Strikeout
Double

It took six runs, six hits (all extra-base hits) and seven base runners for Girardi to say to step in and say, “Enough is enough.” By this point, the Yankees trailed 7-2, and it became 8-2 when Sergio Mitre came in and allowed a double in the gap. Burnett and Mitre made MLB history in the frame by becoming the third team ever to allow six doubles in an inning.

The Yankees are never out of any game with their offense, let alone a game at home, where they have won at an outrageous clip since the beginning of 2009. Does Girardi not know this? How does he not? The only logical explanation is that he bet the over last night, and he just wanted to make sure it clinched before he pulled A.J. from the game.

Why move Nick Swisher down in the order in Tampa Bay?

When Nick Swisher hit that second home run on Monday night – the mammoth blast that nearly grazed the top deck at Yankee Stadium – I desperately wanted him to turn around and give Girardi the middle finger or at least point in the dugout and scream, “That one’s for you, Joe!” to let Girardi know what was up.

The Yankees traded for Lance Berkman on Friday and on Saturday he was in the Yankees lineup. But the Yankees weren’t getting the Berkman that hit 45 home runs in 2006 or the Berkman that drove in 106 runs in 2008. This wasn’t even the Berkman that hit 25 home runs in 2009. Instead the Yankees got the Lance Berkman that was hitting .245 in the NL this year and the Berkman that had missed spring training because of knee surgery missed spring training.

Before we go any further, yes, I was and still am a fan of the trade for Berkman. If he can find what he has been missing all year, then the Yankees have a legitimate No. 3 major league hitter batting in the bottom of the order. But the part that gets me is that the Yankees have now had to use and pay Nick Johnson and Berkman and trade away Mark Melancon for a job that Hideki Matsui could have been doing for less money. But forget Johnson’s injured past, the guy is an on-base machine.

Back to my point … Where would you hit Berkman in the Yankees order in his first game with the team? Girardi decided he should hit second, where Nick Swisher is hitting .296 in 51 games this year with 14 home runs 38 RBIs. Joe thought it would be best to move his All-Star right fielder down to the bottom half of the order in favor of the ghost of Lance Berkman.

Berkman went 1-for-8 in his first two games with the Yankees. On Monday night in the Bronx, Swisher was back in the No. 2 spot and delivered an Eff You performance to Girardi by drilling two more home runs.

Why did you play the JV team against the Rays on Sunday?

You have a two-game lead in the division. You are playing against the team that is trailing you by two games at their stadium with a three-game series coming up against the fourth place team the following day. Which game makes sense to rest starters? According to Girardi, the most important game seemed like the best time.

No A-Rod. Mark Teixeira at DH. Berkman at first, hitting second. Ramiro Pena and Austin Kearns starting. Brett Gardner sitting. I would like to know what Derek Jeter’s mental reaction when he walked into Tropicana Field on Monday and saw the lineup that Girardi posted with the Yankees barely hanging onto first place.

My favorite thing about Joe Girardi is how he always seems to find the most inopportune times to try new stuff, and no one on his coaching staff talks him out of it. “Tony, Rob, Mick, Dave … we have a big game against the Rays. Let’s change the whole lineup. Let’s start the reserves and the reserves’ reserves. This is a good idea.”

Obviously players need their rest over the course of the season, and especially A-Rod who is just a little over a year removed from hip surgery. But how does it make the most sense to give every player that needs a day off, the same day off? Why not give Tex “Game A” off, and A-Rod “Game B” and Gardner “Game C?” Why would you dismantle your lineup as much as possible in the rubber game of the most significant series of the season to date?

I need a drink.

Follow Neil on Twitter at http://twitter.com/NeilKeefe

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