Keidel: A.J. Leads The Way

By Jason Keidel
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Whether you follow astronomy or astrology, you must admit the galaxies have gathered in odd shapes for the Yankees.

In each of the last two years, the Yankees’ season has rested on the shaky shoulders of A.J. Burnett – a bust by anyone’s measurement – to pitch a clutch Game 4. There was nothing in his DNA or ERA to suggest that Burnett would boost the Yankees deeper into October. He obliged last year, surrendering the home run to Molina, all but assuring the Yankees a spot on the golf course, not Game 7.

This year, during Game 4 of the ALDS, Burnett pitched to form, filling the bases with walks in the first inning. Curtis Granderson, who went Willie Mays all game, speared a searing line drive over his head to give Burnett a reprieve. It would be the only one Burnett needed. Burnett and his brethren held the Tigers to one run all night, in a shocking display of calmness and courage from a heretofore, well, choke artist.

There was a redemption theme throughout the night, as Derek Jeter, whom many left for dead (yours truly chief among them) atoned for two brutal strikeouts in Game 3 by whacking a double last night to give his team a 2-0 lead – one the beleaguered Burnett and three relievers wouldn’t surrender.

By the end it was a 10-1 laugher, but the first five were as taut and tense as we’d expect from Burnett. The defining difference last night was that Burnett, prone to pouting on the mound the moment things don’t go his way, dug his cleats deep into the mound and pitched with the heart expected of a man in the middle of an $82 million contract.

No, it doesn’t erase Burnett’s baleful record (34-35 during the regular season with New York) or ERA (5.67 in the playoffs entering last night), nor does it remove the ghoulish pitching mask he normally dons the closer we get to Halloween. But it means that somewhere in that divine right arm there’s a strike reserved for the right moment, and a few positive thoughts in a brain we thought was dead. No doubt you watched the game with one eye open, palm pressed against your forehead. So did everyone in the five boroughs and beyond. You can open your eyes now. The Yankees are still alive.

The Yankees still have substantial pitching problems. If Sabathia returns to pitch Game 5 on Thursday, who will pitch Game 1 against Texas? Can Bartolo Colon or Freddy Garcia (already showing signs of advanced age) be trusted with the ball in any ALCS game? Is Ivan Nova, a rookie, really as good as he showed in that rain-splintered game?

But we can put those questions aside for today. The Yankees, on baseball’s butcher block just 24 hours ago, squirmed off and wiggled their way back at home for a deciding Game 5, going from death row to front row in a few innings, the bulk of them pitched by Allan James Burnett.

Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com

www.twitter.com/JasonKeidel

Comments

One Comment

  1. Eleazar Balboa says:

    Criticising a player who is has embarked on a one man mission to keep Crystal …

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  2. ramwmkgllp says:

    have to go with nova in game five – gargia is thowing handgrenades and they can sit on his stuff all night long.. he barely breaks 80mph.. and have colon ready..

    1. JK says:

      Good call, ram. A shame he came up lame. I don’t question Nova’s toughness. Bad break.

  3. Jonas A-K says:

    Great article. You did a great job of painting the surprise that we all felt watching Burnett pitch like a good pitcher instead of Burnett. I, like you and surely millions of others, was a m0nkey’s uncle last night after A.J. escaped the first inning and proceeded to, for the most part, mow down a Tigers offense that, on paper, is supposed to exist. After Granderson saved his posterior to keep that first inning scoreless, Burnett wore a determined look, rather than his typical defeated look, and had all his pitches working. Good for him. And so it goes that the Yankees live another day.

    As for their rotation options, why would Girardi not just go with Nova in Game 5? The resumed-Game 1 matchup of Fister v. Nova served the Yanks quite well, and returning to the scene of the crime, who knows if Fister will provide a horrendous encore or if he’ll pitch like the guy who was 8-1, 1.79 for Detroit after arriving from Seattle? If he pitches like he should, it won’t matter who the Yanks throw out there; however, Nova proved himself as the Yanks ‘ second-most consistent pitcher this year, so unless Joe wants Nova starting Game 1 of the ALCS instead, pitching CC in Game 5 on short rest again will do more bad than good, in my opinion – especially if he gets the same results he did on Monday.

    1. JK says:

      I concur, Jonas. And it leaves CC with a weak arm for the ALCS, no matter when he pitches. I say shove the rookie out there on the shortest of leashes and have all arms stretching in the bullpen.

  4. Jonas A-K says:

    Great article. You did a great job of painting the surprise that we all felt watching Burnett pitch like a good pitcher instead of Burnett. I, like you and surely millions of others, was a monkey’s uncle last night after A.J. escaped the first inning and proceeded to, for the most part, mow down a Tigers offense that, on paper, is supposed to exist. After Granderson saved his posterior to keep that first inning scoreless, Burnett wore a determined look, rather than his typical defeated look, and had all his pitches working. Good for him. And so it goes that the Yankees live another day.

    As for their rotation options, why would Girardi not just go with Nova in Game 5? The resumed-Game 1 matchup of Fister v. Nova served the Yanks quite well, and returning to the scene of the crime, who knows if Fister will provide a horrendous encore or if he’ll pitch like the guy who was 8-1, 1.79 for Detroit after arriving from Seattle? If he pitches like he should, it won’t matter who the Yanks throw out there; however, Nova proved himself as the Yanks ‘ second-most consistent pitcher this year, so unless Joe wants Nova starting Game 1 of the ALCS instead, pitching CC in Game 5 on short rest again will do more bad than good, in my opinion – especially if he gets the same results he did on Monday.

  5. Robert Richardson says:

    Didn’t I tell ya? Didn’t I tell ya !!!!!

    1. JK says:

      You told me Burnett would do this, bud? If so, kudos…

      1. Robert Richardson says:

        Just kidding, I wonder how many fans are saying that this morning? I had my fingers and toes crossed through the 5+ innings AJ was on the mound and was pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Though I prayed and hoped for a competent outing, I can’t think of any true Yankee fan who expected a win last night. But AJ wouldn’t make it easy for us with a few “pucker up” moments. Last night was going to take a team effort with the sputtering Yankee bats. A team effort it was with clutch hits and fielding. It was a game that Yankee Universe can be proud of but it will only be remembered if we win on Thursday. LET’S GO YANKEES !!

  6. Robert Richardson says:

    The Yankee gods smiled upon us. AJ found a way to play !!

    1. JK says:

      They ain’t smilin’ at the moment, bud. Is it too much to ask a $200 million team to win ONE series. Better yet, ONE HOME GAME without Verlander on the mound?

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