Here’s the recap: The Twins beat the Yankees on Saturday night, blitzing through A.J. Burnett and cruising to a comfortable 9-4 win.
Now here’s the interesting part. Burnett was bad. Unspeakably bad. He couldn’t locate either his fastball or his curveball all night long — and by “all night long” I mean an inning and two thirds. Over the course of those five outs he gave up five hits, walked three, and was tagged for seven runs. He had his usual wild pitch to allow the game’s first run in the first, then yielded a sacrifice fly for another run before finally escaping.
He gave up a home run to Danny Valencia to open the second inning, then found more trouble when Luke Hughes doubled with one out, and Ben Revere singled him in an out later. It was 4-0, but it could’ve stopped there were it not for some bad luck. Revere took off for second and Russell Martin threw a dart across the diamond to nail him — except the umpire incorrectly called him safe. After a walk and another wild pitch, Burnett found himself at a crossroads. There were men on first and third and he had worked himself into a full count against one of the three recognizable names in the Minnestoa lineup, Joe Mauer. Burnett’s pitch came in at the knees and started off the plate before darting back towards the corner. It could’ve been called a strike, but it wasn’t. (To Burnett’s credit, he acknowledged afterwards that you shouldn’t expect to get a call on a pitch like that when you’ve had no command of the strike zone all night.)
With the bases now loaded, Joe Girardi made the decision to lift Burnett, and this is where things got interesting. The YES cameras zoomed in on Burnett as he stared hard at something. He could’ve been staring in disbelief at Girardi, or he could’ve been staring at a popcorn vendor in the stands. It was impossible to tell without a wider perspective, but Michael Kay and John Flaherty in the booth told us that he was staring down Girardi, and Kay jumped on the moment, calling all his fellow villagers to light their torches and storm the castle.
“What does Burnett want?” he asked incredulously. I’m just guessing here, but maybe he wanted to pitch better. Maybe he was upset that he had just faced a marginal AAA team and only managed to get five outs.
After he handed the ball to Girardi, Burnett walked towards the dugout but then turned back to the mound and clearly said, “That’s fuckin’ horseshit!” Flaherty then took the kerosene from Kay and said, “Looks like he had some words right there for Joe Girardi.” To which Kay responded, “I don’t know what those words could be that would be legitimate.” (As an English teacher, I cringe at the construction of that sentence, but that’s really what he said.)
Even as I watched it the first time through, I saw the whole exchange in a different light. Girardi looked like he responded to Burnett, but whatever he said was directed towards home plate and seemed to be peppered with the word “pitch,” as if we were telling home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn “That was a good pitch, that was a good pitch” in reference to the 3-2 pitch to Mauer that could’ve ended the inning. More on all this later.
So Burnett walked off the field, into the dugout — and straight into the clubhouse. The YES cameras later caught Girardi hopping off the bench, heading down the tunnel into the clubhouse before returning with Burnett, who dutifully sat on the bench and watched as Ayala allowed all three of his base runners to score.
Michael Kay, John Flaherty, Ken Singleton, and Jack Curry would all interpret these events the same way. Burnett was upset with Girardi and cursed him as he left the mound. He was so angry that he violated baseball protocol and went straight to the clubhouse, hoping never to return. Girardi would have none of this, so he chased him down, scolded him, and dragged him by his ear back into the dugout. Presumably, there would be no dessert for him either.
I don’t think any of this happened. When Jack Curry asked Girardi about what had happened between Burnett and him, Girardi looked legitimately stunned, then became as angry as I’ve seen him in his tenure as manager. “You can write what you want, and you can say what you want. He was pissed because he thought he struck out Joe Mauer.” When asked about the dugout situation, Girardi only got angrier. He explained that he had gone down into the clubhouse to look at the replay of the pitch. Curry kept pressing him, but Girardi finally shut him down.
As for Burnett, he looked just as surprised when asked about the “confrontation,” and his explanation made even more sense. He explained that Martin had said to him that 3-2 pitch had been a strike (Girardi also mentioned this), and that his horseshit statement was simply expressing his agreement with Martin’s assessment of the call. When asked about whether or not those comments might actually have been directed at his manager, “I was not talking to Joe, absolutely not. No matter how mad I get. That guy’s taken my back, every day I’ve been here. No matter how boiling I’m gonna be, I’m not gonna say that towards a manager, not him, not a chance.”
The only two voices that mattered were the only two voices that made any sense.
What doesn’t change, though, is that Burnett isn’t getting people out. There’s been a lot of talk recently about how Burnett’s contract should be separated from any discussion about his effectiveness, but the pressure will only continue to build the closer we get to October. Regardless of how large his paychecks are, can Burnett be trusted to take the ball in Game 2? Only time will tell.
[Photo Credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images]