By Jason Keidel
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Jack Curry, whom I’ve never met, asked Joe Girardi the exact right questions Saturday night, after yet another meltdown by A.J. Burnett, who was yanked in the second inning in Minnesota, keeping his lovely, August record to one win in three years in pinstripes.

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Yet Joe was hardly jovial in response. When asked if there were a beef between he and Burnett: “We had a fistfight,” he barked sarcastically, and angrily toward the team’s own network (YES). “This is silly,” Girardi said twice. “I’m tired of people looking for something between me and A.J.”

No, Joe, we want you to tell us why this stiff stays in your rotation. We know the answer, of course – he makes $16 million dollars this year to pitch like the East Coast’s Barry Zito. And he indeed glared at you as you meandered toward the mound to give him the hook. Michael Kay said it, and we saw it. The rest of your story may be true, but given Burnett’s penchant for implosion, Curry’s questions were warranted.

Honestly, the fact that Girardi went Kellen Winslow on Curry indicates a simmering truth, one that the Yankees’ skipper skips in public. Girardi is known for his outbursts. How else you explain the inane exacta of getting fired while winning Manager of the Year for the Florida Marlins. He told his owner to shut up, about as brilliant as asking to be fired from your first managerial job, which he basically did, and was.

Any why is the manager of a club cruising toward the playoffs, on the brink of bulging 30 games over .500, so ticked off? Would he prefer to return to Florida, where his old team is ensconced in last place in the NL East. Would he rather make minimum wage managing minimum talent? While there’s no question managing the Yankees is a unique pressure vacuum that only those who have done it can fully understand. But Girardi needs, for lack of a more dignified diagnosis, to chill out.

Girardi gulped some spiritual Valium over the last few years, learning from a litany of gaffes during his first year, in 2008, when he went Belichick on the press, hiding injuries and keeping his gruff and grumpy mien with the media. Since then he has been more calm and candid; until Saturday night, at least.

Let’s assume all involved are telling the truth, that Burnett cursed at his catcher, and then took a b-line to the clubhouse, with his manager following him to watch some film. The sequence is too coincidental to dismiss. For his part, Burnett confirmed Girardi’s assertion, saying he barked at his catcher about a strike called a ball, and said he’d never yell at his manager. Sweeny Murti confirms this, as well.

And even if we who congregate in conspiracies are way off the scent and common sense, it doesn’t blur the bottom line: A.J. – which could double for “Average Joe” – Burnett is a bum by all malleable measurements. 9-10, with a 4.96 ERA, cruising toward another historically bad season, is a good place to start.

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Ron Gardenhire is one of the five-best managers in baseball (if not higher) with a talent for improving impoverished teams into winners. But not even Gardenhire can overcome the dearth of decent players at his disposal. His team is a triage, as only two starters have avoided the DL this season.  At 13 games back in the AL Central, not even the Twins (55-71) can muster the summer luster needed to make the postseason again.

And while mojo is a tangible oddity but overrated commodity in baseball, there’s a heretic hex on his team when he plays the Yankees. Entering this series, Gardenhire was 19-60 against the Bronx Bombers, a rather incongruous record considering his record. But I bet Ron runs to the park when he knows Burnett is pitching, as the hurler with the strong arm and sublime stuff is a streak-killer of a different dimension. If you can’t beat the Yankees, just wait until Burnett’s on the bump.  Indeed, they just lost three out of four at home to the Yanks, and you can guess who they beat.

Something must be done with Burnett. Sweeny tells me that he has too much time in the majors to be shipped to the minors without his consent. The team can’t cut him, because they’re stuck with the $35 million or so left on his colossal contract.

If you don’t trust him in the rotation – and I challenge anyone who says they trust him to a polygraph – he’s useless in the bullpen. The only answer this writer can drum up is to pound the eject button for the playoffs. Yes, leave your $82 million pitcher off the playoff roster, who has one win in August in three years on the team. And that came against the hardly royal Royals last week. Seriously.

I took some flak for my Eli Manning column, calling it a quintessential case of bottom-feeding, despite the fact that Mike Francesa covered it and The New York Times ran a piece on it yesterday. My mail is generally 50/50 in the love/loathe department – except when I blasted Burnett last week. About 90 percent of you waved the Keidel Flag, “Preach, Jason!” is what I got. Seems I’m not the only one sick of seeing a man fleece his employer of $82 million under the guise of inconsistency. We’re tired of this chump’s change since he got to New York. He went from borderline ace to Mr. Whipple in a year. (Sorry if those commercials predate you. Feel free to Google the toilet paper person.)

On some level, New Yorkers accept not winning. We don’t accept not giving a damn – the one thing Burnett has perfected.

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