Oct
05

The Biggest Game of the Season

By

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Two Octobers ago, A.J. Burnett outdueled Pedro Martinez in Game Two of the World Series one night after Cliff Lee thoroughly manhandled the Yankees in Game One. I called it the most important game of the season a few days later, and as Burnett has struggled terribly over the last two seasons, we’ve always been able to look back at that Game Two start as his redeeming quality. Help the Yankees win a World Series, especially as a starting pitcher, and you’ll be welcome in this town forever.

As we’ve gotten further and further away from the 2009 World Series though, the less we’ve been able to use that Game Two start as a crutch. Yes, it happened and Burnett was amazing, but one game doesn’t make a five-year contract. A.J. continued to pitch terribly with no end in sight, but the team gave him the opportunity to wash his hands of the last two years last night. It wasn’t by design, some poor weather forced them to give him that opportunity, but they gave it to him nonetheless. Last night, in Game Four of the ALDS, he delivered and added another big game to his Yankees resume. Sounds weird, but it’s true.

You know the situation. It was an elimination game on the road against a team that has a really good offense and was still riding the high of Justin Verlander’s dominance in Game Three. Burnett had nothing going for him before the start, just the support of his teammates and manager, and the forced support from us fans. We didn’t have faith in him, you all know this, but we were all in his corner because of the uniform he wore. In a way, A.J. had nothing to lose. No one expected much from him, so it would have been really tough for him to disappointment. Anything productive would be a pleasant surprise.

Although I still consider that Game Two start to be Burnett’s “signature moment” in pinstripes, remember the context. That wasn’t an elimination game, it was a “lose and you’re down 2-0 in the best-of-seven series heading to Philadelphia for three games” game. Certainly a crummy situation, but not lose or go home. His actual performance was worse last night, but I think his performance relative to expectations was far great than it was that late-October night against Pedro. That’s what makes it’s so amazing.

Burnett won’t get a pass on his performance during this last few years because of a pair of well-timed gems, but it certainly softens the blow a bit. And remember, the biggest game of the season is not exactly a fixed event. Last night’s game was only the biggest game of the season until the Yankees won. Now the biggest game of the season is Thursday night, Game Five. That one will be in the hands of Ivan Nova and basically all of his teammates other than Burnett. A.J. won’t be available after pitching last night, but he earned the day off anyway.

Categories : Playoffs
  • RJ

    I’d love to know what Larry Rothchild said to / did to AJ in the tunnel/clubhouse in between the bottom of the 1st and bottom of the 2nd, but it worked. I actually thought AJ could have finished the 6th.

    • Bean Tooth

      I actually yelled at Girardi (TV) for taking him out. Then I caught myself. To me, nothing encapsulates AJ’s performance than that.

      • MannyGeee

        yeah, famous last words… “NO Don’t pull AJ from the game, he’s on a ro *implosion*….”

  • Supernova

    If Burnett has a solid postseason all will be forgiven by Yankee fans. Fans don’t care about the regular season, they care about player performance in the postseason. If we make it to the WS AJ will probably have 3-4 more starts and if he’s a big part of us winning the WS he’ll have his own monument out in monument park.

    • Supernova

      It’s kind of like Road to Perdition where Paul Newman gives Tom Hanks a letter to deliver to an associate. The letter Hanks’s character delivered said- “Kill Sullivan and all debts are forgiven.” If AJ can kill this postseason all debts are forgiven and he will be a beloved Yankee for the rest of his days.

      • I Collect Brett Gardner Cards

        The great thing about New York and the fans here is that.

        Play hard. Show grit and wear the stripes with honor and the fans will love you.
        Have a big moment and it can carry you in your NYY career.
        sadly it also works the other way.

        Don’t perform, show less than a full desire to wear the stripes and you will find a tough going here. [Ian kennedy comes to mind].

        Remember the yankee fans taking a shine to Andy Stankiewicz [the stanky yankee as he was known in the clubhouse. ok probably not true] because he would run to first base on a walk?

        Thats what its about.

        People don’t want to hate AJ but hes frustrating as hell to watch.

        The dude is super cool and wants to perform well.
        I big start in the ALCS will help him along in his quest to be added to the yankee lore.

        • MattG

          You’re absolutely right! That’s why not a day goes by that ‘Andy Stankiewicz’ is not revered on this and other blogs!

          /unnecessarily snarky response

          • I Collect Brett Gardner Cards

            He should be!
            :)

        • CP

          Don’t perform, show less than a full desire to wear the stripes and you will find a tough going here. [Ian kennedy comes to mind].

          The reaction to Kennedy was stupid. He was a 24 year old starter that had thrown less than 60 innings in the majors and people were reacting to him like he already failed.

          And he never showed ‘less than a full desire to wear the stripes.’

          • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

            False.

            Kennedy’s post game comments when he got more or less rocked (too lazy to search myself but they are easy enough to find, I’ve done it myself before) showed a clear lack of caring and accountability. They were, on 2-3 occasions, to the effect of…’nah I really didn’t think I pitched that badly.’. That kind of stuff after an undeniably poor outing (both in terms of results and peripherals).

            Yes he was young. And yes he had an injury issue. But his attitude was sub par and it rubbed people – fans and guys in the locker room (unnamed sources quoted in the same articles) – the wrong way.

            • MattG

              “his attitude was sub par and it rubbed people…the wrong way”

              People who think that there is only one way to be, one way to behave, and one way to think. I remember that well, and I thought it was the stupidest controversy about nothing imaginable. FWIW, FIP would totally support Kennedy’s comments, as he did not give up homers or walks in the game in question. What he did give up was a bunch of ground ball singles. If he thinks that it is his job to get them to hit it on the ground, and whatever happens next is out of his control, there are quite a few very smart people who’ll agree.

              So maybe he shouldn’t ever say such stuff to reporters, but shame on ‘people’ for believing he has to think as they do.

              • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

                “I remember that well, and I thought it was the stupidest controversy about nothing…”

                Right, you “thought.”

                A majority of people “thought” otherwise, and ultimately those “thoughts” prevailed.

                “So maybe he shouldn’t ever say such stuff to reporters, but shame on ‘people’ for believing he has to think as they do.”

                Lol, “shame on?” Ah, the holier than thou, condescending tactic. Kennedy was soft-headed. Get over it. He got a chance to fail in Arizona in 2010 and now he’s a good pitcher in 2011. He was never going to get the chance to fail in NY. Let him go like a diseased piece of pussy (Ari Gold).

                Why is it that Nova, Montero, Betances, Romine, (and from the IPK generation) Hughes and Joba knew what was expected from them in a postgame interview when they came up, but Kennedy had to mush-mouth his way, pass the buck and claim that his AAA success was more important than getting shellacked in MLB?

                He’s probably grown up since then. He probably doesn’t have to answer as many questions in Arizona.

                But if he stayed in NY, he would’ve continued to be a soft bowl of puss. Congratulations to him for getting out of the pressure-cooker. It’s the best thing that could have happened to his career.

            • MannyGeee

              This is exactly what I remember too. This is what you were looking for:

              “The Angels routed the Yankees, 10-5, driving Kennedy from the game with no outs in the third inning.

              Kennedy, who breezed through the International League in recent weeks, looked every bit as overmatched as he did in April and May, allowing nine hits and five runs. His season record for the Yankees dropped to 0-4, and his earned run average rose to 8.17.

              “It’s the first bad outing I’ve had in a long time, since the All-Star break,” Kennedy said. “I’m not going to look much into it. I felt like I made some good pitches. I’m just not too upset about it.”

              http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08.....038;st=cse

              • MannyGeee

                another gem from that article:

                “What was it, a bunch of singles and three doubles or so?” Kennedy said. “I’m just not real upset about it. I’m going to move on. I already have done that.”

              • MattG

                And here is the boxscore:

                http://mlb.mlb.com/news/boxsco.....b_anamlb_1

                It was six singles, three doubles, 1 K, 1 BB. But IIRC, none of the doubles were stung. It was the extreme example of getting hammered while pitching OK–the opposite of the guy that throws a perfect game while giving up a dozen rockets.

                • Jorge (needs a new name)

                  He deserved a mulligan after that sort of statement, and not to be hung out to dry. I also like having Curtis Granderson more. I hope Kennedy wins 20 every season here on out, improves him game and, maybe, the team can steal him back with AZ can’t pay him.

          • The Big City of Dreams

            It’s crazy that ppl still judge him on those comments. Fans are funny a guy throws himself under a bus and it’s he lacks confidence but he brushes it off and he doesn’t care.

        • Jorge (needs a new name)

          We love you all too.

          Sincerely,
          Bubba Crosby
          Homer Bush
          Andy Phillips

          • Jimmy

            Mike Pagliarulo please call your office.

    • MannyGeee

      “Fans don’t care about the regular season, they care about player performance in the postseason.”

      you must be new to RAB….

  • forensic

    Anyone else look at that picture and think to themselves that Cano’s body language and what he might be looking at would be a great caption contest?

    • Foghorn Leghorn

      The video of this is on the MLB highlights. Its actually pretty cool b/c each of the players gives AJ support.

      You can see Arod saying “Good Job” and Jeter, Cano and Tex give him a big pat on the back. AJ then taps his glove on Martin’s chest before leaving. And then you see Cano lean back and he says somtehing to AJ and AJ looks back.

      AJ has been more awful than good, but he really has come up big in two post season games. I really hope he can work things out and be more productive for the next two years. He seems like a good guy and all reports from the clubhouse say he is.

      • Yankee Fan 1

        Jeter pounded AJ on the chest and said “atta boy” like a proud dad.

        • Foghron Leghorn

          yep…its pretty cool.

          another neat highlight is on Grandy’s first catch the show one with the angle behind the plate and you see Martin stand up and when Grandy makes the catch Martin just makes this huge clap with his glove.

    • Darren

      “Jesus, Tex, have some gum. Your breath STANKS!”

      • MattG

        I think he was looking more for, “I know who’s soap I’m gonna accidentally knock off the soap rest after the game tonight!”

      • Bean Tooth

        To which Montero replied, Really? I’m all the way in the dugout.

    • Jobu The Voodoo Troll

      “That bastard stole my lucky shoes!”

    • MannyGeee

      Cano: ‘Look at the ass on that guy’

      • I Collect Brett Gardner Cards

        cano just needs adam sandler next to him and needs to motion his hand up and down as if to say, smokin’ and that pic could be from a Schmitts Gay commercial.

        Oh and if AJ was also wearing a thong.

        What?

    • goterpsgo

      “Hey Kim Jones – you’re pretty hot tonight!!!”

  • Yank The Frank

    AJ is one hell of a roller coaster ride.

    • I Collect Brett Gardner Cards

      Yep, and he should only pitch on Thursdays, cause he’s must see tv.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    One things on Granderson’s diving catch. That was one of the best I’ve seen EVER.

    But, it made me appreciate Gardner even more. Grandy knows that he can go for that b/c he knows the Gardner is going to be right there to back him up.

    • RJ

      In general the smarts of the Yanks OF defense is overlooked. Even when Swish forgets his bat he makes all the plays in RF.

    • Flynn

      Very good call

  • http://Twitter.com/Jmarlowescully Scully

    One thing about AJ. If the Yankees advance and he has two or three more quality starts it could very well carry into next season. He’s such a confidence pitcher. Smoltz, who as Mike pointed out is Anti-Yankee, still did a pretty good job of outlining the difference in AJ’s balance and delivery when things are going good and when things are going bad. I’m reading into this obviously but, we all know with AJ the pure stuff is there and it’s about, as Rothchild apparently said, being a pitcher and not a thrower. He has plenty of fastball and curveball to get people out and I know he’s in his mid-thirties now, but who’s to say that he couldn’t learnt to harness that ability now. When his confidence is high as it was last night after the first inning his delivery is much quieter as he pitches the ball instead of throwing it. When that happens, as we all know… he’s a fucking beast.

    • MattG

      “who’s to say that he couldn’t learnt to harness that ability now”

      If its so damn easy, why wait until now?

      Smoltz’s simplistic analysis was incredibly spot on, yet there clearly needs to be way more to it than that.

      “Hey AJ, why not try keeping your balance a little more?”

      “OK Larry, I’ll give it a shot…Hey! It works!”

      • http://Twitter.com/Jmarlowescully Scully

        Totally get what you’re saying… just being positive and saying it’s possible. Is it probable… probably not, which is what makes AJ so damn frustrating.

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      Agreed that the TBS cast is anti-Yankee. I can understand Smoltz he lost two WS to us but not Ron Darling he never lost to us. I guess it is envy.

      • Graig not Craig

        Mets envy Yankees.

      • Sarah

        Darling is better than Smoltz though…

      • Jorge (needs a new name)

        I think it’s jarring for us to hear announcers who actually treat the other teams on an equal level with the Yanks. Is that anti-Yankee, though?

        I do wonder whether these guys all had their pants off when Phil Coke was pitching last night. Never have I heard such love and yearning for Phil F’ing Coke.

    • Nuke LaDoosh

      AJ obviously had the good 2009 Post Season and maybe it did carry into 2010 (at least April/May), and then as we all remember…the wheels came off the wagon for the rest of the year.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Smoltz-for all his expected Yankee hate-is an excellent analyst and his comments on pitching are neat to listen to-such a difference from the total lack of true baseball insight from a Sterling/Waldman combo. I liked his comments on crossfire delivery and release points. He mentioned this with Nova who throws across his body. I’m sure he will mention it tomorrow as an indicator of whether Nova is on his game or not.

    • MattG

      I find his crossfire meme to be very thin. Its another, less accurate, way to say “Get around the ball,” and “Dropping the release point.”

      I don’t want to dump on Smoltz too much, because like all analysts, they don’t have time in the booth to say anything of real value (plus he is far superior to the waste of breath formerly known as Ron Darling), but I didn’t hear anything particularly insightful. It’s a lot like the “he needs to keep the shoulder in” meme. Everyone that has ever tried to coach that one learns pretty instantly that the shoulder flying out is a symptom, not the cause.

      • Bean Tooth

        Darling was talking about the effectiveness of Porcello’s “high sinker”, which coming from a former pitcher may have been the dumbest thing ever said on TV. Smoltz immediately pointed out that a sinker is supposed to be low. Even my wife, who only half-watches games, noticed Darling’s awfulness.

  • Kevin

    I have to say the articles about Verlander’s gem are getting old. He put his team in a 2-0 hole to start with and ended up giving four runs,the same number as CC.
    If Soriano hadn’t made that crappy pitch, there is a chance we could have pulled out a win.

    • Bean Tooth

      Shh, don’t mess with the narrative. No doubt, if the performances were reversed, all the talk would be about Verlander’s gutty guttiness as he gutted-it-out despite having no command because of the rain out. Gutty.

    • MannyGeee

      Narratives>>>>>>>FACTS!

      4ER ‘gem’ in 7IP for the reincarnation of Cy Young is much more impressive than some shithead who threw a 4ER clunker in 6IP.

  • Mickey Scheister

    If anyone wants to know where AJ got his cool stainless steel necklace, the same one he donned in the 2009 playoffs, it’s part of the Russell Simmions collection, you can find them at Kay Jewelers. Just an FYI. I bought one after the 2009 WS win.

  • Bronx Byte

    Burnett owes Granderson dinner in Manhattan at his favorite place. If not for the 1st inning catch, Cory Wade was ready to go in the bullpen. Burnett pulled a rabbit out of a hat with teammate help.

    • MattG

      And f’ing Smoltz called it, just like he called Young’s home run. How the hell can you predict at ‘At ‘em ball?’

      I think this series is actually on tape delay, and the only one who knows it is John Smoltz.

      /conspiracy theorized

      • MannyGeee

        like i mentioned before, that coudn’t be farther away from an “At’Em Ball”, Granderson had to work for that one. an At’em basll would have been a line drive to Tex.

        • MattG

          Well, if he calls it exactly we’re all gonna know it’s on tape delay. You have to keep up appearances.

      • Alex

        Oh… I spent half the telecast thinking “wtf is an atom ball???”

  • China Joe

    Real Yankees never die…they just pitch like crap for 2 seasons.

    • Mickey Scheister

      And toss gems in must win post season games. I can’t stop watching the highlights from last nights game.

  • Frank

    AJ pitched well after the first inning and allowed the Yanks to play 1 more game. No doubt, he deserves credit, especially considering what was on the line. But let’s not get carried away. The fact remains he’s career a .500 pitcher. Even a .500 pitcher has a good game now and then. But .500 pitchers also have a lot of awful performances. That’s AJ- he consistently inconsistent. While AJ pitched well, the fact remains he was VERY lucky in the first inning. Let’s face it, had Kelly’s ball cleared the bases and the Yanks eventually lose last night, today everyone here would be screaming for AJ’s head, saying how he sucks and hopefully pitched his last game in pinstripes. Again, he pitched a good game. Do I have confidence this carries over to his next start (assuming they win tomorrow and he gets another start)?. Absolutely not.

    • MattG

      AJ has had a ton of clean innings this year. He also has allowed a smidge too many crooked numbers. This was a typical AJ start, with the one difference being that he got a massive fielding play in back of him.

      But it was also atypical: Granderson’s catch was the only fly ball out AJ recorded (according to Mike Axisa). The only big difference between AJ 2009 and AJ 2010-11 is his home run rate (I know the about the declining peripherals, but this is the big difference). Not allowing the ball in the air would do wonders for that issue.

    • Graig not Craig

      Who’s getting carried away? I don’t see any parades or keys to the city proposed in the article or this thread.