By Jason Keidel
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A pitch that zigged when it should have zagged, as it should have, as it had to, morphing into a microcosm of A.J. Burnett’s career and framing the unbending illogic of his bosses.
The tattoos creeping out of his sleeves, up his forearms, as though a creature is consuming him, some baseball doppelganger that has drained the power from his golden arm…
A.J. Burnett the pitcher – which perhaps says a lot about the man – is the avatar of someone we all know, or knew. Blessed with gifts but prone to gaffes, he leads you within one mile of Mecca and then flies off the road. He shaved his head as though his hair burdened his brain, keeping him from a New York state of mind. And for over five innings, it worked. A shame he was asked to pitch six.
And in the dugout rests his solemn manager, obdurate to the end, bound by conviction and foolishness. It feels like Joe Girardi started Burnett simply because he already told us so a week ago. CC Sabathia was waiting for the call but the phone never rang.
Girardi has said several times that he’d rather lose his job than risk the health of his pitchers. Sabathia is not that kind of pitcher. He was made large and strong and eternally hungry for a reason, for this time of the season.
Ron Darling said during the TBS broadcast that no pitcher has waited longer between starts than Burnett had and won a playoff game since the 1930s. Burnett, maddening on regular rest, was the pitcher picked by his manager to win a game that they could not lose. If you think the Yankees are winning the next three games and beating Cliff Lee, read no more.
The box score will tell you that Burnett lost this game. He did not. Perhaps the entire population watching the game expected Joe Girardi to spring from the dugout and tap his right arm as Bengie Molina waddled to the plate. He did not. Beginning with starting Phil Hughes instead of Andy Pettitte in Game 2 and ending with the twisted neck of Burnett and a nearly collapsed Alex Rodriguez when he heard the crack of Molina’s bat, so is the refrain of a team that died prematurely.
With the twin decisions of believing in Burnett and the Cubs naming a new manager, Girardi lost leverage, millions of dollars, and a chance to match the team’s number of titles to the number on his jersey.
If the series is to hinge on a hit, it is fitting that Molina is the Grim Reaper. A rotund catcher built like the guy tossing peanut bags in the bleachers, the last you’d expect to be a Yankee tormenter in a series that needn’t go this way, Molina has done this before.
The Texas Rangers are not afraid of the Bronx Bombers, who have bombed in all the wrong ways. And thus the season essentially ends with their worst pitcher on the mound. It’s a sad fate for a fan base that paid through the nose and every other orifice for tickets to an ornate rendition of the house that housed the ghosts across the street.
Aura and Mystique are indeed dancing at your local nightclub, surrounded by men glued to their worst impulses, and soon to be joined by the Yankees.
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com