"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

Much Ado About Nothing

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]


1 RIYank   ~  Aug 21, 2011 7:39 am

Geez, now I feel sorry for him again.

Girardi is still "taking his back," as AJ puts it, but I wonder how many more crappy starts he'll get.

2 Boatzilla   ~  Aug 21, 2011 7:50 am

Nice write-up Hank. Thank you. I think it's clear now that the so-called altercation between Girardi and A.J. did not happen, but it's also clear that the situation (A.J. impotence) has become an eye-sore for the Yanks. Until the Captain speaks, we are all left sifting through the dust for clues. Cpt. Jeets, please throw us a bone. Is A.J. in or out?

3 monkeypants   ~  Aug 21, 2011 8:07 am

OK. What I do not understand: if it really was a good pitch (in AJ's and Girardi's eyes) that *should* have ended the inning, why choose then to pull the pitcher?

Otherwise, is this team still seriously considering bumping Hughes from the rotation while letting AJ do his thing every five (or is it six) days?

I think I need to go smoke me some objective pipe.

4 OldYanksFan   ~  Aug 21, 2011 8:23 am

As crappy as AJ has been, he usually admits he sucked, and has only spoken well of Girardi in the past. There was no reason for AJ to be mad at Girardi in that situation, and I believe Hank has it right.

I know we all love controversy, but I'm surprised that the booth would in mass, misinterpret that event. Maybe they're all pissed at AJ for sucking all year, and just wanted to throw him under the bus. AJ's pitching creates enough controversy that we don't need the added bullshit from Kay and Co.

5 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Aug 21, 2011 8:24 am

[2][3] Nice ones. guys. I am REALLY happy "objective pipe" has entered the Banter glossary! Now if I could just get people using "Operation:Shutdown" again all would be well!

6 monkeypants   ~  Aug 21, 2011 8:29 am

[5] Operation: Shutdown. One of my all time favorite sports-related episodes. It still makes me laugh.

7 Mr OK Jazz Tokyo   ~  Aug 21, 2011 8:44 am

[6] I forget who that terrible GM was for the Pirates that signed D.Bell (they've had so many bad GMs and managers..) But totally agree, just a wonderful situation. Just ahead of Bobby Bonilla "showing the Bronx" to some pushy beat reporters.

8 Boatzilla   ~  Aug 21, 2011 9:07 am

[5] The problem is that Cashman is really smoking salvia and he needs to tend to his garden a little more.


9 Alex Belth   ~  Aug 21, 2011 9:21 am

5) Word to Derrek Bell.

10 briang   ~  Aug 21, 2011 11:21 am

AJ is a crap pitcher for the most part but i like him. he's a stand up dude. he wishes he was killing it but instead he's just stinking up the joint.....fuck, i wish he would kill it more often. where is AJ?....

AJ?......AJ?.....come out and pitch some good games for the yankees please?......


nice fucking write up dude. the banter and it's voices of reason are nearly the only totally enjoyable baseball site for me.

joe posnanski is up there too!

11 Sliced Bread   ~  Aug 21, 2011 11:25 am

Oh the high school drama. Baseball behavior including that of the people who watch it, and cover it can regress so quickly it's maddening.
I was watching the game and couldn't care less what AJ said in that moment, or who he said it to. He was awful, and it was past time for him to hit the showers.
All that matters is what happens next. What does Cashman do about it? I said here last week, AJ is his problem now. Girardi will only support his player. Cashman has to put AJ on the DL and give him a few weeks to figure shit out.

12 William J.   ~  Aug 21, 2011 11:51 am

[4] Not this year. In the post game, Burnett has regularly talked about how he thought he pitched well despite the results. He has become oblivious to the level of his failure, which, in some respects, has been historic.

Regardless of what happened on the mound, Girardi overreacted to what were legitimate questions from Curry, who also used a very respectful tone. His immediate defensive posture makes me more likely to doubt his veracity. Also, if the situation was much ado about nothing, why did he and AJ have to have a talk a few innings later? If there was some confusion among the participants, isn't it fair that the media and public would also need clarification.

Girardi handled himself poorly, but I don't really care how he treats the media. What concerns, and bothers, me is that both he and Cashman have felt it necessary to continually cater to and make excuses for Burnett. It's time for them to wake up to the reality of AJ and move in a different direction. Blaming his struggles on a media concoction is pretty lame.

13 Hank Waddles   ~  Aug 21, 2011 2:15 pm

The other thing that I wanted to squeeze into the piece is what perhaps disturbs me the most about A.J. Burnett. What it god's name is going on with his hair?

14 Bruce Markusen   ~  Aug 21, 2011 6:34 pm

From his hair to his tattoos to his pitching, I've had it with Burnett. This guy was at least a respectable pitcher with the Jays and Marlins; the last two years, he's been horrid--and he seems to get worse as the season goes along. He really has no clue what to do when things starting going wrong, which they do every game, whether it's the second inning or the sixth.

The Yankees have babied him to no end, from Cashman's strained defense to Girardi attempting to make Jack Curry the villain instead of Burnett. Supposedly, some of the Yankee players are starting to tire of Burnett's act; his lousy pitching and questionable actions have worn thin in that clubhouse.

15 Yankee Mama   ~  Aug 21, 2011 9:12 pm

I like AJ, but he's an official head case. Is there a DL for that?

16 BobbyB   ~  Aug 22, 2011 10:14 am

I take back my AJ for Zambrano comment of the other day.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver