‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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Pitting A.J. Burnett against the power-hitting Detroit Tigers with the Yankees’ backs against the wall, down two games to one in the ALDS? It’s like handing the keys of a classically restored Ferrari to a wild teenager.
You don’t know in what condition he will return it or if the damage will be repairable. By the time Burnett is removed from the mound at Comerica Park, the Yankees could have surrendered seven runs and find themselves in an inescapable hole.
Personally, I would have more faith if Joe Girardi inserted Phil Hughes in Burnett’s place. Hughes had his share of struggles this season but at least there is a comfort level that exists when he’s on the mound. The only thing I feel when Burnett pitches is constant uneasiness and nausea.
That’s because we’ve all seen the Burnett routine a thousand times before. He’ll begin strongly by throwing two impressive innings, where he racks up a decent amount of strikeouts. Once he reaches the fourth or fifth inning, Burnett faces a hurdle that he sometimes has trouble clearing.
You ever see that YouTube video of a high school girl, competing in a track meet, stumbling and falling over each hurdle? It reminds me of the way that Burnett unravels. He’ll surrender a walk or cheap base hit and allow it to haunt him for the rest of the game. One meaningless walk with no runners on can turn into a three, four or five run meltdown inning.
That’s the kind of fire Girardi is playing with tonight as Burnett faces Tigers’ right-hander Rick Porcello. The Chester, New Jersey native finished the regular season strongly but is yet to make an appearance in the playoffs.
What Yankees fans can hope for is that Porcello is over-awed by the task of being trusted to win the clinching game of the ALDS in his first ever playoff outing. Normally, I’d feel confident in the Bombers’ lineup against a raw 22-year-old, but some important Yankee batters are yet to show up in the ALDS.
Mark Teixeira hasn’t produced in the postseason since joining the Yankees and his 2011 ALDS numbers do not inspire feelings of belief. Tex is hitting .091 and has managed only a single hit in 11 at-bats. Alex Rodriguez is hitless thus far in the ALDS but has been troubled by a knee and thumb injuries. His timing appears to be off and I’m not sure if he’s able to generate the power needed to deliver hits to the outfield in his current state.
Still, A-Rod and Teixeira are All-Star caliber players who have enjoyed tremendous careers with the kind of power numbers that most hitters around major league baseball would envy. Burnett on the other hand, is a 121-111 career pitcher with a 4.10 ERA. He’s spent his last two seasons in pinstripes with a .500 record or worse and ERA’s above 5.00.
As I watched Girardi’s press conference after Game 3, I heard him speak confidently about Burnett. “I feel good about what A.J. is going to do for us,” Girardi stated.
It’s great for a manager to show confidence in his starter with the season on the line but what exactly is Girardi basing this on? Burnett’s postseason numbers as a Yankee are a 1-2 record with an ERA of 5.67. It’s complete and utter blind faith.
Girardi better have Hughes warming up around the fourth inning because that’s usually when Burnett’s dam begins to break. My fingers are crossed in hope that somehow Burnett can exit tonight’s game before the damage is done.
Yankee fans – can the Bombers survive Game 4 at Comerica and force a deciding Game 5 at Yankee Stadium? How do you expect Burnett to fare with the season on the line? Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.