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Keefe To The City: Joe Girardi Burning Over A.J. Burnett

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(credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

(credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

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By Neil Keefe
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You think I like writing about A.J. Burnett? Well, I don’t. But I can’t help it because he can’t stop giving me things to write about. His time as a starting pitcher the last two seasons has been like George W. Bush’s as president for late-night jokes. At some point it gets old, but when someone keeps giving you material, you have to run with it.

At the end of Good Will Hunting, Ben Affleck’s character (Chuckie Sullivan) tells Matt Damon’s character (Will Hunting), “You know what the best part of my day is? The ten seconds before I knock on the door ’cause I let myself think I might get there, and you’d be gone. I’d knock on the door and you just wouldn’t be there. You just left.”

I live this every day. You know what the best part of my day is? Every day when I sign online, or go on Twitter, or turn on the TV or the radio ‘cause I let myself think that I will see the headline or hear the phrase, “A.J. Burnett removed from Yankees rotation.” I’m not foolish enough to think that I might hear, “Yankees release A.J. Burnett” because of the money he is owed this season and the $33 million for the next two years. But I let myself think that maybe, just maybe he will be sent to the bullpen and given the Jorge Posada treatment in that he doesn’t fit the team’s plan in putting the best team on the field. I think we’re getting there.

Burnett’s start on Saturday night was an epic one, especially if you wanted to go out for the night, but were delayed because the Yankees were playing a night game on a Saturday. But if you wanted to go out, you got your chance in the second inning just minutes into the game.

1.2 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 1 HR.

It looks bad on the screen or on paper or anyway you want to read it, but if you write it out yourself it’s actually much, much worse. Then when you factor it in who it was against (Minnesota) and how bad they have been this year (second-worst in runs scored in the AL), well, it’s a whole lot worse.

Burnett faced 12 batters. Eight of them reached base. Five of them were named Ben Revere, Trevor Plouffe, Danny Valencia Rene Tosoni and Luke Hughes (they are still named those names too). This isn’t the Red Sox, Rangers or Tigers or a team that has postseason aspirations. This is a team that outside of Burnett’s start scored five runs total in the other three games of the series. It’s a team that is 16 games under .500 and 13 games out of it in the weak Central. Let’s face it: The Twins suck.

But no one sucks when A.J. Burnett is pitching. Here’s how Burnett’s night went on Saturday:

Ground out
Double
Double
Sacrifice Fly
Strikeout
Home run
Walk
Double
Ground out
Single
Walk
Walk

And somewhere in there was another wild pitch to add to his league lead and to add a run to the board for the Twins.

Burnett was pulled from the game in the second inning after walking Joe Mauer to load the bases with the Yankees trailing 4-0. He had thrown 61 pitches before Joe Girardi took him out and before he threw ball four to Mauer he tried what Michael Kay refers to as “the old Jeff Nelson” when he faked to third and then faked to first. Yes, this move did happen to work against the Yankees against the Angels to end a game a few weeks ago, but anytime you see “the old Jeff Nelson” it’s obvious the pitcher has no faith in their ability and knows that if they need to get an out by throwing the ball to the catcher, they aren’t going to get an out. And Burnett was trying the move in the second inning. When you see “the old Jeff Nelson” it means the pitcher has morphed into Henry Rowengartner in Rookie of the Year and is now willing to try anything to get an out. Thankfully, Burnett didn’t call a mound meeting and give the ball to Mark Teixeira in an attempt to try the “Hidden Ball” trick.

So, Girardi pulled Burnett like any manager would and should in the given situation. The game was getting out of hand and was actually already out of reach with one out in the second inning. Burnett’s pitch count was high enough that he wasn’t going to last past the fourth inning at best if he could somehow turn it around, but as we all know, Burnett doesn’t grind through starts or somehow “find it” in the middle of a start. He either has it from the first pitch or he doesn’t, and he hasn’t had it from the first pitch in a while.

When Girardi pulled Burnett from the game, Burnett turned around and said something to the area where Girardi was standing as he walked off the field. I say “the area” because we would find out later that Burnett wasn’t chirping Girardi, according to both. He was talking to himself or the umpire, and if he was talking to the umpire, he just happened to turn his back to the umpire and talk to Girardi. Then Burnett went down the runway toward the clubhouse. Moments later Girardi followed him. Moments after that, both Burnett and Girardi emerged from the runway back into the dugout. It was later revealed in the postgame that they went down to watch video of the Mauer pitch.

I’m not saying they didn’t watch video of the pitch to Mauer, but I’m asking, “Why would you waste your time looking at video of the pitch?” Was that one pitch the turning point in the game? If it was called a strike, were the other four runs going to be erased off the board? Was Girardi going to watch the pitch and then tell A.J., “Holy sh-t, you’re right! It was a strike! Forget about the other seven guys you let reach base to that point! You struck out Joe Mauer! Great effort, A.J.!” If they did watch the replay of the pitch, why did they? And what was the point?

Do I know what Burnett said when he left the mound? Kind of. I mean it’s not that hard to read lips when YES is playing his mouth moving in slow motion over and over with Michael Kay and John Flaherty talking about what they saw (which is what I saw), and then Al Leiter is texting Michael Kay because he saw the same thing. Do I know who it was directed at? I guess not. Do I know what happened in the runway or in the clubhouse out of everyone’s view? No, but when was the last time Girardi left the dugout like that after removing a pitcher from the game? Does he usually go and look at the last pitch thrown by the pitcher he just took out? I’m not sure.

I don’t usually watch the Yankees postgame show. (Sorry, YES.) It’s not entertaining for me to watch Joe Girardi give vanilla answers or to hear A.J. Burnett say he pitched with conviction despite losing again. The only time I really watch the YES postgame show is when I’m comfortable on the couch and the remote control is too far away for me to reach it, so I watch the postgame show then Yankees On Deck and then a Yankeeography and then the replay of the game again. Yes, this has happened.

But on Saturday I wish I watched the postgame show because Joe Girardi lost it on YES’ Jack Curry for really no reason at all. It was epic, and I could watch it on a loop all day like the most recent episode of Jersey Shore. Luckily has YES has the video on their site.

I’m not here to call Joe Girardi a liar. Or to call A.J. Burnett a liar. I don’t care if they did lie, which they might have and probably did. I don’t know If Joe Girardi lied to the media. I don’t know if A.J. Burnett lied to the media. I don’t know why Russell Martin’s story vaguely matched up with Girardi’s or Burnett’s. None of this is the point.

I’m here to go through the questions asked by Jack Curry and the incredible answers given by Joe Girardi following the game to find out why Girardi flipped out, if nothing really happened when he took the ball from A.J. I’m here to try to find out what Girardi was talking about for most of the time he was talking to Jack Curry and to make sure he doesn’t overdose on whatever Cashman has been packing in the objective pipe he clearly passed to Girardi.

Here is the transcript of the exchange between Curry and Girardi in bold. My thoughts about each Girardi answer are written below the questions.

Curry: What happened between you and A.J. when you removed him in the second?

Girardi: What do you mean?

Like I said, I don’t know if Girardi was lying. But I do know that when someone is asked a question or called out about something, the response and facial expression they make before a story of lies begin is the same response and facial expression Girardi gave. It was textbook.

Girardi seemed to be shocked that Curry asked him a question about the events that took place in front of all of Target Field and in front of anyone with the YES Network. If nothing happened then why not explain in a calm manner what happened and that would be that. Why freak out, and go insane defending a guy who just made $500,000 for the night for getting four outs and costing the Yankees the game before their third at-bat?

Curry: The camera showed that he turned and said something in your direction and that you reacted and said something back.

Girardi: I didn’t say anything back to A.J.

Before the Internet, people could make up stories and lies and there would be no real proof if they were lying. If someone told you, “Oh yeah, I kicked around in the minors with the Reds for a few years,” you would either have to take them for their word or make your own judgment. Now you can go to Baseball-Reference and find out the truth.

Girardi seems to live in a world where TV and DVR and slow motion and the Internet don’t exist. He also seems to think that he is either the best storyteller ever (which he is actually the worst) or that Yankees fans and the people watching the game aren’t as smart as him, which is also not true because Yankees fans are too smart to have Curtis Granderson sacrifice bunt ever. After the exchange of words during the pitching change, Twitter had already cataloged the events and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had modified Burnett’s Wikipedia page before he even got back to the clubhouse. (I checked and sadly, no one updated it. Maybe I will.) But Girardi tells Curry he didn’t say anything back to Burnett. I guess all the viewers were imaging what was on the screen. Too many hits from the objective pipe? Maybe.

Curry: What did A.J. say to you?

Girardi: Well, you can write what you want and you can say what you want, but he was pissed about he thought he struck out Joe Mauer. And I asked if they thought it was a strike and the guys said they thought it was a strike.

You can write what you want and you can say what you want? What?!?!?!?! What does that even mean? I don’t know, but let’s try to figure it out.

A.J. was pissed that he “thought” he struck out Joe Mauer? So, if he had struck out Joe Mauer, then what? Then it’s only 4-0. Oh, that’s makes everything better. But A.J. didn’t strike out Mauer. In fact, the pitch wasn’t even close. Here is a shot of the pitch, and if you’re thinking, “Well, it might have broken back over the plate in the next frame,” well, it didn’t. It was a ball. A clear ball. And the guy who had thrown 60 pitches and 29 of them for balls before that pitch to Mauer wasn’t about to start getting the benefit of the doubt against three-time AL batting champion.

Honestly, how could A.J. be pissed about NOT striking out Joe Mauer? It doesn’t make sense. It’s Joe Mauer. At least say, “A.J. was pissed about giving up a double to Trevor Plouffe” or “A.J. was pissed about giving up a double to Luke Hughes” or “A.J. was pissed about giving up a home run to Danny Valencia. But don’t tell me that A.J. is pissed that he threw a pitch that almost clipped Mauer and was out of the strike zone and that was what set him off.

And if Burnett isn’t pissed about the call on ball four to Mauer (though he said he was), why would he be mad that Girardi is taking him out? Does he think he deserves to work out of the jam and try and salvage the inning, and knock his ERA down a few points? Does he think he has built up enough good credit that he should be allowed to figure it out on the mound? Is A.J. Burnett even more delusional than I have thought all along?

Curry: What happened when you came back to the clubhouse? It looked like you left the dugout to get him to come back to the dugout?

Girardi: This is silly. This is really, really silly. You know what, we had a fistfight is what we had. No. I came and looked at the pitch. There’s a camera, our video room is right down there, and everyone always seems to want to blow up about A.J., A.J., A.J. Nothing happened between me and A.J. I went down and looked at the pitch. And I’m tired of it. I’m tired of people looking for something between me and A.J. 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 and everyone’s always trying to say there’s something between me and A.J. What do you want, the pitcher to want to come out of the game? I mean, this is ridiculous.

I wish it was silly, but it isn’t. What’s silly is that A.J. Burnett is still part of this rotation. It’s going to get even sillier when he stays in the rotation and makes his next scheduled start this week and gets lit up by the A’s or Orioles.

Girardi poses an idea: Who would win a fistfight between Girardi and Burnett? Girardi is listed at 5’11”, 195 lbs. on Baseball-Reference and Burnett is listed at 6’4″, 230 lbs. There is an obvious height and weight difference here, but Burnett doesn’t seem to really care about anything and his heart and determination can be questioned. Girardi, on the other hand, is an absolute animal who seems like a guy that doesn’t sleep and just stays up all night doing bicep curls and updating his binder with updated splits for Boone Logan against left-handed hitters. I would take the guy that’s five inches shorter and 35 lbs. less. I would take Girardi because he would will himself to victory against a bigger opponent. Burnett would just get frustrated and give up.

“A.J., A.J., A.J.” I’m tired of having to type his name because it’s a pain going Shift+A then period then Shift+J then period then checking to make sure both initials are capitalized and that the punctuation is correct. I can’t even begin to imagine how many times I have typed “A.J.” in the last 18 months and I have had to check to make sure I typed it correctly every single time.

Everyone is looking for something between Girardi and A.J. for a reason, and that’s because if he did say something to Girardi (which I’m of course not saying he did) it wouldn’t be the first time he had a fit for getting taken out. Do you remember Aug. 3? Sure, you do because it was only 19 days ago. It was when Burnett was pulled because he couldn’t qualify for a win in a game the Yankees led 13-1 against the White Sox.

And what does A.J. cheer for Girardi for? Filling out the lineup card? Giving pitchout signs? Making pitching changes? Shaking hands with Tony Pena after wins? What is there that Joe Girardi does that it would be OK for some to “cheer for him?”

Curry: Joe, you don’t think a pitcher saying something coming off the mound could be interpreted as showing up the manager?

Girardi: I think people are always looking for A.J. And I’m tired of it. Case closed on that.

Is Girardi a cop or a judge? Can he just close a case like that?

This is my favorite answer from Girardi because it’s the craziest. PEOPLE ALWAYS LOOK FOR A.J. BECAUSE HE GIVES PEOPLE A REASON TO. How do I know this? Well, let’s look at what he has done in four starts in August:

1-1, 17.2 IP, 35 H, 21 R, 21 ER, 7 BB, 12 K, 3 HR, 10.70 ERA, 2.386 WHIP.

Opponents are hitting .432 against Burnett in August and the only reason he has a win is because the Yankees scored seven runs in a game that he gave up 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

Curry: Have you had another pitcher do what A.J. Burnett did tonight?

Girardi Case closed on that. I’m tired of it.

And I’m tired of watching A.J. Burnett pitch, and I’m tired of him being in the rotation. Let’s close the case on that.

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe

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