Results tagged ‘ A.J. Burnett ’

Game 1 wrap: Sabathia the smooth operator

By Jon Lane
In my postgame feature I wrote about how CC Sabathia is the atypical starting pitcher. I covered the team when David Wells was here and before each of his starts he blasted his stereo loud enough to be heard outside of the closed clubhouse door.

Wells, like many, believe they have to journey deep into the zone and get jacked up to get that extra edge. Sabathia? He’ll mingle and play a few games of RBI Baseball on the old-school Nintendo. Simply chilling out is something Andy Pettitte can relate to.

“There’s no sense in grinding all day long and in here,” Pettitte said. “If you can get locked in 30 minutes or so before your start, it’s usually, for me, it’s the easiest way to do it. And I think that’s kind of how ‘C’ is.”

‘C’ is also a guy who leads a power pitching staff that’s dominated opponents via the strikeout. Last season, Yankees starting pitchers ranked 19th with 618 strikeouts. In 2009, they were sixth with 777. Following Sabathia in Game 2 is Burnett. While he many not keep you at ease like the big lefty, when he’s on, Burnett is electric. And if he’s on, he has the stuff to turn out anyone’s lights.

Sabathia is the perfect guy for Burnett to follow, yet another definition of a staff ace.

“He’s had a huge impact on me,” Burnett said. “I’ve had the pleasure of following him often this year. There ain’t nothing like going after him. He sets the tone, he comes out and he attacks. He has that confidence, too. He’s prepared every fifth day. He works hard in between every fifth day. That’s what you want to see from your fellow starters. You want to see commitment and effort. He’s non stop through the whole season. To be able to throw that many innings and do what he does year in and year out, he’s definitely an ace, number one.”

Again, Burnett can drive you crazy, but he hasn’t melted in “big games” and will be presented with a golden opportunity to give the Yankees a 2-0 series lead before heading west.

Until later today, a day in which the forecast is again ominous, thanks for reading.

Twins vs. Yankees: Game 2

By Jon Lane
First pitch: 6:07 p.m.

Pitching matchup: A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04) vs. Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.03)

Forecast: Partly
cloudy.
Still a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms in the evening, but
there’s plenty of blue sky and a perfectly cool and crisp late
afternoon.

Throwing out the first pitch:
Reggie Jackson. About an hour ago Chris Shearn conducted an exclusive
interview with “Mr. October” for a Stadium Spotlight to be posted
later. Also on tap are chats with David Robertson, Chad Gaudin and
Francisco Cervelli, and Shearn’s pregame Off the Wall Vlog.

Speaking
of Cervelli, he was taking ground balls at third base during batting
practice, telling my colleague Joe Auriemma it’s to “keep my hand
active.” He’s the third catcher on the Yankees’ DS roster for a reason.
You never know.

A bit of news: Dr. Marc Philippon, who
performed the hip surgery on Alex Rodriguez, told reporters he doesn’t
expect A-Rod to need another surgery this offseason.

Other pregame chatter: Joe Girardi discussed
the DH debate, the mood of the clubhouse in light of “Molina-gate” and
A.J. Burnett’s chances tonight. Ron Gardenhire also explained why Carl
Pavano has been great for the Twins. Yes, that Carl Pavano.

Tonight’s Lineups: Molina batting ninth

Back with much, much more later

reggie_250_100909.jpg6 p.m. Reggie, looking dapper wearing a fedora hat, jacket and tie, bounced a pitch to Jorge Posada. See, he got to catch?

6:14 p.m. Burnett
needs just 14 pitches to work through the first inning, ending with a
punch out of Jason Kubel after issuing a two-out walk to Joe Mauer. A
microcosm of good and bad A.J. – he retired the first two batters on
five pitches and needed nine to get through Mauer and Kubel.

6:32 p.m.
That’s two scoreless innings in the books for Burnett-Molina. With a
runner at second and two out, Molina draped his left arm around Burnett
to provide instructions. The next pitch Matt Tolbert grounded out to
second. There is something about Molina’s ability to reach Burnett,
knowing exactly what to say and how to say it. We’ll see if this keeps
up.

6:53 p.m. Burnett catches Mauer looking with a runner
on first to end the third, a nasty breaking ball that’s his best of the
game to this point. That was a .365 hitter he sent to the bench shaking
his head.

gomez_250_100909.jpg7:09 p.m.
The Burnett-Molina connection breeds great karma. 7:10 p.m. Matt
Tolbert’s single was to give the Twins a 1-0 lead … or so it seemed.
Nick Swisher caught Carlos Gomez rounding too far off second base and
he fired a strike to Derek Jeter, who tagged Gomez out right before
Delmon Young touched home plate. That’s the biggest play of the game,
but the Yankees have to get something started offensively. Nick
Blackburn has held them hitless through four innings, allowing only a
walk.

7:32 p.m. Burnett after five innings: no runs, two
hits, four walks, two hit batsman, five strikeouts – in other words
he’s been A.J. Burnett. He’s thrown 73 pitches – 25 in the fifth – but
is backed up by a deep and rested bullpen. Provided the Yankees solve
Blackburn, you’ll see Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera.

Theme of the game so far: Burnett/Molina’s and the Yankees’ ability to do damage control.

7:40 p.m. Robinson Cano ends Blackburn’s no-hitter at 4 2/3 IP with a single to center.

7:55 p.m.
Brendan Harris, of all people, triples to left to put the Twins on the
board, though a better left fielder makes the play. Burnett’s thrown 96
pitches after six, and David Robertson and Damaso Marte were warming
up. I’d be very surprised if he comes out for the seventh.

7:58 p.m.
Posada pinch-hitting and gets a loud ovation. Burnett’s night is done.
He gave it a ride to deep left center before Gomez caught it on the
warning track.

8 p.m. Meanwhile, it’ll be Joba Time in the seventh.

8:06 p.m. Huge spot for Mark Teixeira here. He’s 0-for-6 in the Division Series.

8:11 p.m.
Make that 0-for-7. Teixeira teases a grand slam and pops a 3-2 pitch to
left for the second out. What do you know? Huge spot for A-Rod here.

arod_250_100909.jpg8:13 p.m.
Mr. October Version 2009 delivers: RBI single to left scores Jeter,
ties the game at one and chases Blackburn. A-Rod is 3-for-7 with three
RBIs in the ALDS.

8:21 p.m. Twins 3B Matt Tolbert with a strained left oblique, day-to-day.

8:31 p.m.
Here’s why Phil Coke was brought in with two out in the seventh:
Lefties hit .195 against him and Jason Kubel was 0-for-4 with two
strikeouts. Make that 0-5, 3 Ks.

8:47 p.m. A Tweet from
WFAN’s Sweeny Murti: “I think this is setting up beautifully for a
Posada walkoff Bot 10, and AJ giving him a pie!”

8:54 p.m.
Brendan Harris, yes Brendan Harris, is 2-for-2 with an RBI as an injury
replacement. His hit-and-run single has runners on the corners with two
out and Hughes in trouble.

8:57 p.m. Ridiculous. The Twins grab the lead on a walk and two singles by their 7-8-9 hitters all with two out.

9:02 p.m. There’s hope Yankees fans: 15 walk-off wins and 28 in their last at-bat, including those three games in May.

9:09 p.m. Great play by Harris. He’s supposed to beat you with his glove, not his bat.

9:28 p.m. Teixeira ends an 0-for-7 slump by leading off the ninth with a single. A-Rod at the plate. Very interesting ….

arod_250_game_100909.jpg9:32 p.m. A picture and decibel levels are worth thousands of words. TBS cameras had a shot of Ron Gardenhire with a look that read, “You have got to be kidding me.” That run off Rivera in the eighth looms large, but the Yankees have new life.

9:49 p.m. Runners on the corners in the 10th. This is what happens when you walk the No. 9 hitter with two out.

9:52 p.m. Alfredo Aceves dodges a bullet. Mauer leads off the 11th if it gets that far.

10:03 p.m. Nathan throwing error, Brett Gardner hesitates, then takes off, still beats the throw to third. Unbelievable. Now they’re putting Jeter on to set up the double play. Gardy’s also pulling Nathan for the left-hander, Jose Mijares.

10:09 p.m. Buzzkill.

10:19 p.m. Twins in business because Damaso Marte stinks, but it could have been worse. Left field umpire Phil Cuzzi completely blew a call that would have given Mauer a leadoff double.

10:22 p.m. Bases loaded and nobody out, but Twins would have had the lead if not for Cuzzi.

10:26 p.m. After Delmon Young lined out to first, Gomez grounded to Teixeira, who threw to home for the force, and Harris flied out to center. Awesome performance by David Robertson, though he has Cuzzi to thank.

10:30 p.m. Teixeira walk-off HR ends an epic. He’ll get his first taste of pie. Back later with so much more.

Girardi on Matsui, clubhouse, Burnett

By Jon Lane
Key points from Joe Girardi’s pregame press conference:

On the debate of whether Hideki Matsui or Jorge Posada would DH:
“Matsui has been our DH most of the year and is familiar with that role. That is not a role that Jorge has done a lot in his career. If there’s a left-hander on the mound maybe you think a little bit different. But Matsui, I mean, he’s been great against left-handers, so it wasn’t much of a decision because of what Matsui has done in the DH role.”

On the temperature of the clubhouse given the talk about Posada’s reaction to sitting:

“Clubhouse is great. I watched the guys go through practice yesterday. They were loose; guys were having fun. They enjoyed being around each other like they always do, so I think our clubhouse is great.”

On why he believes A.J. Burnett will be successful:
“I’ve always found that A.J. has liked the big stage. I talked about his success that he’s had coming into here as an opposing player, the success before this year he had going into Boston, some of the games. We were 0-2 to start the year and he got our first win in Baltimore. I think A.J. likes it and I think A.J. likes pitching in this ballpark. That leads me to believe that he’s going to have a good game.”

_______________________

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire also discussed Carl Pavano starting Game 3, a potential elimination game:
“He’s been great for us, a veteran pitcher. The leadership you get from a guy who’s been there and done it has been very, very important. And then watching him go out on the mound, when he’s throwing the ball, how he works hitters and works the zone when he’s got his good stuff. He’s in and out and using all his pitches and can pitch backwards if he has to. That’s something that some of our younger pitchers need to learn to do, so he’s been very important for us.

Game 2 scene setter

ALDS.jpgBy Jon Lane
First pitch
: 6:07 p.m. at Yankee Stadium; gates open 3 p.m.

Pitching matchup: A.J. Burnett (13-9, 4.04) vs. Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.03)

Forecast: Cloudy with a slight chance of showers in the evening; showers likely with a slight chance of thunderstorms after midnight. (They could play through “showers,” but “thunderstorms” will force a delay and put everyone in one big I hate rain bad mood.)

If there’s a rainout: Game 2 moves to tomorrow night (TBD) and the teams lose the travel day. Games 3-5 will remain Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. If the series then goes the distance, the Yankees would be faced with a choice of starting Burnett on short rest, Chad Gaudin or Joba Chamberlain.

Throwing out the first pitch: “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson. Incidentally I heard a replay of Reggie’s appearance on “The Howard Stern Show.” His weekly Tuesday night show on Sirius 123 was plugged, but the rest of the details are for mature audiences only.

The big story: Joe Girardi’s decision to sit Jorge Posada and start Jose Molina.

Before Game 5 of the 1977 ALCS in Kansas City, Billy Martin made the most courageous decision of his career when he benched Jackson, George Steinbrenner’s $3 million man. It’s apples and oranges compared to Posada and Molina, but hang with me. Jackson was 1-for-15 in the series and numbers against Royals starter Paul Splittorff so poor that when asked, Catfish Hunter told Martin that Jackson “can’t hit him with a paddle.” That left Martin, who felt if the Yankees lost he would be fired anyway, to convince Steinbrenner and Gabe Paul why he had to bench Jackson.

Posada owns three World Series rings and was .285-22-81 this season, while Molina can’t hit even if attempted to put paddle on beach ball, so obviously this is different. But what’s similar is the manager’s guts. Ian O’Connor writes it’s E-2 on Girardi, but Sam Borden commends Girardi for making the requisite tough decisions.

There is something to chemistry between some pitchers and catchers. Andy Pettitte had it with Jim Leyritz – and not Girardi – in 1996, so did Greg Maddux with Eddie Perez. You can’t discount that Burnett went 5-5 with a 4.96 ERA and .270 opponent batting average in 16 starts with Posada and 5-2 with a 3.28 ERA and .221 opponent batting average in 11 starts with Molina catching, including 3-1 2.92 in his last six.

Molina showed a knack for keeping Burnett’s emotions in check and in a cohesive enough pace to not made desperate mistakes during crisis situations. And during the time of season where pitching rules all, you do whatever you believe is best to shut down the opposition, especially if Nick Blackburn suddenly morphs into Jack Morris. And it’s not like Posada won’t be available to pinch-hit or enter the game immediately after Girardi finds an opening. And it’s certainly not like the rest of the Yankees lineup can’t hit. Blackburn was 11-11, 4.03, so the odds are long that he’ll pull a Morris and good that the Yankees offense will knock him out early.

Of course, if Burnett is razor-sharp and the Yankees win, Girardi is a genius. If he’s blasted, Girardi is stupid, Burnett is a whiner, boos will be heard from Jersey and Posada would be given carte blanche to scream, “I was the problem?” Yankees fans, in a panic, will declare the series over and demand that Girardi is shown the door.

That’s the nature of sports. It’s also the nature of sports to stop debating, hang up the phone after your favorite sports talk station leaves you on hold for an hour, quit crunching numbers, and sit back and watch. It’s why the games are played. We’ll see if this issue is either buried quickly or linger like a thunderstorm of biblical proportions.

Memo to Mother Nature: Hold off on the showers until after midnight. Too much going on tonight in the Bronx.

Burnett: A faster pace with Molina

burnett_275_100809.jpgBy Jon Lane
A.J. Burnett was adamant about his defense of Jorge Posada during a dugout chat with reporters on Wednesday, and reiterated his success throwing to both Posada and Jose Molina. But he admitted to having a better rapport with Molina, which is why Joe Girardi – not Burnett – made the risky call to bench Posada and start Molina in Game 2.

“It’s more of kind of a ‘me’ rhythm,” Burnett said. “It’s being able to throw both heaters any time I want. And just working off of that. Four seam, two, seam. Just whenever, inside, out and not really worrying about calling it, kind of working a faster pace. He just keeps me going at a little quicker pace. We seem to click.”

Molina shrugged his shoulders and wondered why there was such a fuss over Posada’s disappointment in not being behind the plate and how he suddenly found himself in the middle of it.

“I always say and I will keep saying the same thing, the manager’s Joe,” Molina said. “He writes it down my name, I will play. I’m ready. If Jorge don’t like it that’s him, but you guys have to ask him about that not me. But Joe is the manager. He puts me in the lineup and I play.”

Thanks to Larry Fleischer for the quote. Girardi is also considering starting Brett Gardner in center field, but indicated he’ll probably stick with Melky Cabrera.

3:15 p.m.
Girardi’s been down this road before, having been asked by Joe Torre to take a seat in favor of Jorge Posada. Posada has too, but it was different in 2005 with Randy Johnson’s insistence of throwing to John Flaherty. What worked in September that season backfired in Game 3 of the DS when The Big Unit was rocked for five runs on nine hits in three innings.

That’s one reason why Molina dismissed any thought about certain pitchers responding better to particular catchers.

“You guys have to understand that the one who has the ball is the pitcher,” Molina said. “He’s the one who’s going to decide what he’s going to throw. We just suggest what the pitch could be. But when the pitcher has something in the mind, they’re going to throw it no matter what. I prefer a pitcher be 100 percent in his pitch than 50 (percent) in my pitch.”

Girardi left open the possibility that he may not remain committed to a Molina-Burnett battery if the Yankees advance to the LCS. But let’s face it: This may be the right move – you live and die by pitching in the postseason and if any starter is on his ‘A’ game on any given night, Ted Williams ain’t hitting him – but it’s also a huge risk. A bad start by Burnett and you know Posada will be seething and asking himself, “I’m the problem?”

“No, I’m not worried about it,” Girardi said. “I never saw Joe Torre fret about it. I never saw Bobby Cox fret about it when Javier Lopez didn’t catch Greg Maddux. I never saw them worry about it. You put the club out there that you feel should be out there that evening, and then you hope that your club makes plays and throws the ball well. And that’s what you do, so, I mean, that’s the decision that I made.”

3:24 p.m.
Burnett on what’s worked and why he’s not surprised Posada will be on the bench

“I figured he was going to catch because we had a good rhythm in the past handful of starts,” Burnett said. “I guess it’s a comfort level. It’s maybe having the same guy out there every day and not mixing it in and out. And just getting the feel of him wanting to know what I want to do on a consistent basis instead of having to come in and out and figure out what we’re doing. It’s the same game plan every day. Just sticking to it.

“I’m not surprised because what Jorge is to this organization and what he’s done in the post season. He’s the leader in this clubhouse. He’s the leader in the dugout. When he’s out there, even when he’s not playing, he’s very vocal and he’s very — he’s around all the time. So I imagine what — how he’s feeling, you know. But like I said, I figured it was going to happen just because of the handful of starts that Molina caught me. And I’m just going to worry about taking my starts tomorrow. Molina is back there, skip made the decision and there’s really nothing we can do about it.”

Molina on creating comfort and rhythm:
“You have to find the right words and time to do it,” Molina said. “If the guy is giving up a lot of runs, you know that’s not the right time to say something. So you hold off until whenever is the right time. You just gain trust. It’s just about trust.”

Yesterday and today

By Jon Lane
Currently playing on Sirius 7: The Spinners’ “Games People Play”

It’s the morning after the Yankees’ 7-2 Game 1 win, a game the Yankees played with their usual never-say-die fervor. Alex Rodriguez was provided with his first chance at October redemption and Wednesday night he delivered. And all involved are confident this won’t be a one-hit (or in A-Rod’s case two-hit) wonder.

“Everybody makes a big deal [out of him], but Alex is a great teammate and it shows on the field,” said Joba Chamberlain. “He plays with everything’s got and always goes about his business.

Derek Jeter, Joe Girardi and CC Sabathia met the media in a formal press conference setting. While Sabathia did what’s expected of an ace, he too entered Game 1 with a shady postseason track record and his 6 2/3 innings of two-run (one earned), eight-strikeout performance was what the Yankees envisioned when they signed him. In short, Sabathia did exactly what he was supposed to do, writes Steven Goldman.

In A-Rod’s case, it’s taken a lot longer for he of greater stature to cash in when it truly matters. Many have been quick to dismiss and even boo Rodriguez upon every failure, but not this season, and that’s been refreshing.

“We don’t listen to it, so if somebody said that I don’t think too many people were talking about it in the clubhouse or reading it,” Jeter said. “He seemed like he looked pretty comfortable all yer. When he came back he seemed like he got better and better as the season went on, but I think a lot of times people read a little too much into final statistics.”

Chris Shearn was on location last night and hard at work, providing a pregame video blog and a Game 1 wrap. The Yankees work out today at 1 p.m. with Girardi and Game 2 starter A.J. Burnett speaking at roughly 2:15. I’m not there today, but YESNetwork.com will keep you plugged in leading up to my return trip to the Bronx Friday night.

Now playing on Sirius 23: L.A. Guns’ “Electric Gypsy.” Some serious cheese.

ALDS rotation set

By Jon Lane
Joe Girardi announced his ALDS rotation: CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. That lines up Sabathia for Game 4 and Burnett for a deciding Game 5 if they are necessary.

Girardi cited the home and road splits among the factors behind his decision.

Burnett
5-3, 3.51 (home)
8-6, 4.59 (road)

Pettitte
6-4, 4.59 (home)
8-4, 3.71 (road)

“I did not talk to A.J. about that,” Girardi said. “That was a decision I made – as a manager, you have to make some tough decisions and that was a very tough one.”

Regarding Jose Molina catching Burnett, which means Molina swings a bat in a decisive Game 5: “They’re working in a good rhythm and we thought we keep it that way and keep them working together. Georgie is our No. 1 catcher, but in this situation we chose to go with Molina.”

It’s unclear if Posada will DH in Game 2, but Girardi indicated Hideki Matsui will DH most of the time. Basically, it’ll come down to the match-ups.

No ALDS roster yet, which will be finalized after Tigers-Twins, but Sergio Pena, Brian Bruney and Ramiro Pena will head to Tampa to stay in shape. You figure Francisco Cervelli will be the third catcher and Damaso Marte the second left-hander out of the bullpen, and Girardi all but confirmed Joba Chamberlain will be active. He’ll work out of the bullpen and can pitch to as little as two hitters or more than three innings.

As if there was any suspense, the Yankees chose not to wait until the end of the Tigers-Twins game and formally announced they selected the Division Series with the extra off day. Put it in stone: CC Sabathia will throw the first pitch of Game 1 tomorrow night at Yankee Stadium.

To whet your appetite

By Jon Lane
BREAKING NEWS: Jorge Posada told reporters today that Jose Molina will catch A.J. Burnett in the ALDS. Whether Posada or Hideki Matsui will DH remains to be seen.

“I just hope we win that game, that’s all,” Posada said. “That’s all I have to say. Matsui’s our DH, so we’ll see. Joe talked to me on Sunday. It’s not like I didn’t see it coming. It’s the manager’s decision”

I guess it’ll depend on which Tigers or Twins starter faces Burnett. If it’s Game 2, it’ll be Justin Verlander or Carl Pavano (yes, him). In Game 3 I project Rick Porcello or Scott Baker, the two squaring off against one another later in Minneapolis.

For what it’s worth, here’s how each match up:

Matsui vs. Pavano: 1-for-5, 1 K
Matsui vs. Verlander: 4-for-12, 2 RBIs, 1 K
Posada vs. Pavano: 0-for-2, 1 K
Posada vs. Verlander: 1-for-10, 1 2B, 3 RBIs, 2 K

Matsui vs. Porcello: 2 BB
Matsui vs. Baker: 1-for-5, 1 RBI
Posada vs. Porcello: 1-for-1, 1 BB
Posada vs. Baker: 1-for-2

_______________________

Some interesting nuggets from the Yankees and the Elias Sports Bureau:

? Joe Girardi is the fifth Yankees manager (Joe McCarthy, Ralph Houk, Billy Martin, Dick Howser) to win 100 games within their first two full seasons with the team. Girardi also joined Lou Piniella to have played for and managed teams that won at least 100 games. He’s done enough to be named AL Manager of the Year, writes Steven Goldman.

“Winning helps,” Posada said. “Coming here not knowing what to expect, as a player it’s different than as a manager, as a bench coach. The second time around is a little different. He did a lot of things to keep this team united. The first year I think he was tougher more on himself.”

? The Yankees’ 15 walk-off wins led the Major Leagues and were second-best in franchise history behind 17 set in 1943. Their 51 come-from-behind wins and 28 in their final at-bat were also best in the game.

? Think the Yankees enjoyed their new digs? After the All-Star break they won 31 of their final 39 regular season games at Yankee Stadium and compiled baseball’s best home record (57-24).

? Think Alex Rodriguez melts in the clutch? According to Elias, 15 of A-Rod’s 30 home runs either tied the game or gave the Yankees the lead, and seven came in the seventh inning or later and either tied the game or gave the Yankees the lead. Out of his 100 RBIs, 50 tied the game or were go-ahead, and 33 came in the seventh inning or beyond.

? Nobody will consider Phil Hughes for MVP, but consider this: The Yankees went 58-26 after Hughes was named Mariano Rivera’s primary setup man, and 31-5 in games in which Hughes appeared. In 54 games before Hughes, Yankees relievers were 13-10 with a 4.88 ERA and 14 saves). After Hughes, the ‘pen went 27-7 with a 3.37 ERA and 37 saves in 105 games.

Burnett sharpening mental edge

burnett_275_093009.jpgBy Jon Lane
Earlier this week I had a discussion with both a mentor and a friend, and also a big Yankees fan. While handicapping the Yankees’ postseason chances, the ultimate wild card came up in the conversation, A.J. Burnett.

The right-hander’s stuff is electric. He knows it. We know it. Everyone who plays with him, and those who pay big money to watch him, knows it. Yet during the season, and throughout his career, there’s been “The Good A.J.” and “The Bad A.J.” Some starts he’s won by guile over talent, but for the most part there’s been no middle ground. He’s either really, really good, or really, really bad.

My friend, let’s call him R.J., brought up a valid point. Burnett spent Monday in Arkansas to be his father, Bill, who underwent triple-bypass heart surgery. R.J. believed this had to be weighing heavily on his mind for a couple of months. All of us have spent the season breaking down Burnett’s inconsistencies. From May 27-July 27, he was 8-2 with a
2.08 ERA, allowing three runs or less in each of his 11 starts. His next seven starts (August 1-September 1), he went 0-4, 6.54. There were those who deduced the pressure of a pennant race, combined with New York’s ridiculous expectations, were getting to him.

He’s never pitched in the postseason, but Burnett’s delivered in big spots before (see his one-hitter against the Red Sox August 7). He’s never hid from the media, made excuses or blamed Jorge Posada – when everyone was bracing and salivating for a tasty feud – no matter how big of a stinker he produced. Lose or win, Burnett, even when he used the worn “One game at a time” cliche, was always analytical. What he said made sense. His words resonated that the philosophy was much more than a cliche. It was a belief system, or what Pat Riley wrote in his book, The Winner Within a Core Covenant.

Collectively, the Yankees obeyed the code and it won them the AL East and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. To play deep into October, Burnett will have to dig deeper, and so far, so good. He held the Royals to an earned run on three hits in 6 1/3 innings with three walks and eight strikeouts Tuesday night. A big reason was that old “one pitch at a time” attitude, but again, Burnett has a way of explaining it so that you’re not rolling your eyes at some boring team speak. 

“There’s times in the year where I made pitches, they’ve gotten hits and I’ve gotten really aggravated and let little things bother me,” Burnett said. “Now, I’m pushing it aside. Instead of, ‘Why did I do that?’ it’s ‘OK, now don’t do it again.’ There’s a lot of different thinking out there and it’s paid off.”

There’s an ongoing debate that will continue probably until the Twins and Tigers decide the AL Central: Who will start Game 2 of the Division Series? Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News breaks down the splits between Burnett and, the chic choice, Andy Pettitte. You can also vote on YESNetwork.com’s home page. As of this writing, Burnett has earned 55 percent of your votes.

Based on his track record alone, I’d go with Pettitte (14-9, 3.96 in 35 postseason starts) and Joe Torre’s go-to guy in Game 2. That has neither to do with performance –  Burnett has a 1.89 ERA over his last three outings, giving up four earned runs on 17 hits and nine walks over 19 innings, striking out 25 batters – nor fear of the unknown. Burnett won’t melt under the October lights; that August night under a postseason atmosphere he one-hit Boston over 7 2/3 innings and left with the game scoreless only because Josh Beckett was just as awesome. 

“A lot of times, people say, ‘He has no playoff experience,’ then guys go out that have no playoff experience and play extremely well,” said Joe Girardi. “We have expectations of him. There are a lot of games that you pitch that have playoff implications or playoff atmosphere that we play in during the course of the year, and some of those games, he’s pitched really well.

“Everyone is different. Until that person goes through it you really don’t know.”

Burnett knows why he was brought here. He knows what will be at stake – “The prize is next month,” Girardi told him – and what he has to do. It’ll be pass or fail for the right-hander, and not because he’ll fold mentally.

“As long as I’m clear upstairs I’m ready,” said Burnett. “The past couple of weeks have been a real important stretch for me.”

The next few will be, next to precious time spent with his father, the most important of his life. No explanations will be necessary.

T-minus 10

number10_200.jpgBy Jon Lane
The Yankees’ magic number to clinch the AL East is 10 games – don’t forget, it’s only four to clinch a playoff berth – but Joe Girardi was quick to say, “I believe this is going to go down to the end.”

Think about it: The Red Sox have won seven of eight and play the lowly Orioles this weekend, while the Yankees are out west to play the Mariners (not easy) and the Angels (you know their history in Anaheim). Making the playoffs isn’t good enough. The Yankees want the division and home field, and are determined not to slip to Wild Card status – I don’t care how many Wild Card teams ended up winning the World Series.

Furthermore, tonight is the start of the rest of the season for A.J. Burnett. Handsomely earning $82.5 million, Burnett is 1-5 with a 6.14 ERA in his last nine starts having allowed 25 earned runs in his last 29 1/3 innings. This man is starting either Game 2 or 3 in the ALDS. He has no choice but to turn it around.

Worse, Felix Hernandez (15-5, 2.52, 193 K) is Burnett’s opponent. King Felix may be 1-3 with a 5.92 ERA in four starts against the Yankees, but he hasn’t faced them since May 3, 2008. If he’s on, Burnett is good enough to be anybody. But when he’s off, whoa boy.