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