Kay, that is.
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]
Looks like Andy Pettitte’s playing days are over. Michael Kay’s got the scoop.
It’s been a wonderful career, Andy, and we’ve appreciated watching you pitch. Thank you, kindly.
On my way home from work, I flipped on ESPN Radio as Michael Kay was interviewing Andy Pettitte. Midway through the conversation, Kay asked Pettitte which was the bigger priority: simply making the playoffs, or winning the division.
Pettitte’s answer was telling.
“Obviously, you just want to get to the dance,” he said. “But as for me, I want to win the (American League) East. I think we’re the best team in the East, so why not go out and win it?”
Pettitte has been a part of 11 playoff teams, including 8 Division winners, in his Yankee career. Certain Yankee players, and definitely manager Joe Girardi, would not be as candid as Pettitte in their replies to a similar question. So to hear that level of honesty was refreshing.
And for the first part of this four-game grudge match against the Tampa Bay Rays, Pettitte’s teammates have answered the call to push for a division title. Tuesday’s 8-3 win increased the Yankees’ AL East cushion to 2.5 games, thereby guaranteeing that they’ll be in first place when the Red Sox enter town this weekend to close out the home schedule. The Orioles’ 9-1 romp at Fenway put the Red Sox a little further in the rearview mirror.
Speaking of the Red Sox, these Yankees-Rays series are bearing a strong resemblance to the classic Yankees-Red Sox battles in the late 1990s through the middle part of this past decade, aren’t they? The games are long, action-packed, loaded with playoff-level intensity. You could sense that even games like this one, where the Yankees sprinted to a 5-0 lead after one inning, would have its share of nerve-wracking moments. The Rays have made a habit of coming back from big deficits, home-run prone Phil Hughes was on the mound, and Mariano Rivera was likely unavailable after throwing 25 pitches Monday.
I’ll admit it: I’m still not sure what Hughes will provide on a per-start basis other than throwing a lot of pitches, give up a home run or three, and maybe last five or six innings. Based on his last few outings, what I wanted to watch closely on Tuesday was his handling of batters once he got ahead in the count, specifically 0-and-2. He had six 0-2 counts, and allowed two walks, a loud flyout to right, and had three strikeouts. Hughes struck out six overall.
Hughes demonstrated a level of guts that proved why he will likely be in the starting rotation come October. There were three specific occasions where Hughes went into “grind” mode:
1) Top 3, Yankees up 5-1, two out. After Hughes issued a wild pitch on ball four to Carl Crawford that allowed the lead runner to advance to third, Evan Longoria delivered an RBI single to cut the lead to three. That brought the tying run to the plate in the form of Dan Johnson, who hit two prodigious home runs off Hughes last Thursday in St. Petersburg. Hughes won this battle, getting Johnson to ground out to Mark Teixeira to end the threat.
2) Top 4, Yankees still up 5-2, one out. BJ Upton bounced back to Hughes for what should have been an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play, but they only got the force at second, thanks to a gross miscommunication at second base between Robinson Canó and Derek Jeter. Knowing his trusted middle infield tandem gave the Rays an extra out, Hughes had the demeanor of Dante from “Clerks” for the next two batters (“I’m not even supposed to BE here today.”), loading the bases on a single to Jason Bartlett and a walk to John Jaso. Two pitches later, Hughes got out of the jam by inducing a soft grounder to first from Ben Zobrist.
3) Top 6, Yankees still up 5-2, two out. Hughes reared back and fired a 92-mph, Eff-You fastball right down the pipe that Upton swung through.
That pitch had the look of being Hughes’s last one of the night … until Girardi sent him out there for the seventh. My first thought: “Bad Idea Jeans.” Sure enough, Bartlett led off with a single and advanced to second on Jaso’s groundout. Girardi then removed Hughes for Javier Vazquez. My first thought: “Bad Idea Jeans.” And sure enough, Carl Crawford floated a single to left to drive in Bartlett and bring up Longoria with Vazquez and his intimidating array of whiffleball pitches keeping the lead intact. It should be noted that at this point, I was mentally prepared to scrap my original angle and rewrite the recap featuring an all-out assault on Girardi’s bullpen management, but Vazquez got Longoria to hit the ball on the ground. Inning over. Quality start preserved, lead preserved.
The offense responded with two more runs, only to have Vazquez and Joba Chamberlain do their best impressions of John Wettleand circa 1996 on the Rays’ next turn at bat. Chamberlain, with the bases loaded and one out, Houdinied his way out of it by striking out pinch-hitter Brad Hawpe and getting Jaso to fly out to center.
An extra insurance run in the eighth courtesy of back-to-back two-out doubles by Brett Gardner and Jeter provided the final margin, as Chamberlain pitched a stress-free ninth. Not until that last out was recorded, though, was there any relief.
Pettitte believes the Yankees have the best team in the division. They may be, provided they maintain the level of production in clutch situations they showed Tuesday 5-for-10 with runners in scoring position, seven runs scored with two outs continue to receive quality starts through the rest of the rotation and get capable relief pitching.
A sweep, which is still in the offing, would almost solidify Pettitte’s theory.
Two comments from local sports talk radio that were uttered this week absolutely need to be addressed:
First, on Monday, Michael Kay, reveling in the Yankees’ sweep of the Red Sox, commented on his afternoon show that the Red Sox — and I paraphrase here — “finally misplayed their hand at the trade deadline by not getting Roy Halladay. They made the move for Victor Martinez, who doesn’t have a position. They tried to get Felix Hernandez from the Mariners. They should have given Toronto whatever it wanted to get Roy Halladay. They’re holding on to Clay Buchholz, who’s 25 years old. Getting Halladay would have put them in position to make a run this year and next year. The Red Sox finally misplayed their hand.”
To my former colleague, I say, “Huh? Did they really?” I don’t know about you but when I saw the news that the Sox got Victor Martinez and the Yankees’ big move was Jerry Hairston, Jr., the fan in me was sulking for a few hours. Then I got to thinking, “This puts Terry Francona in a bind as far as maneuvering Martinez, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell. But that’s a decent problem to have.” Plus, who’s to say that the Red Sox didn’t offer everything the Blue Jays wanted? It’s entirely possible that Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi had no intention of trading Halladay to a division rival at this stage of the season.
(My guess, and this is just a hunch with no inside information at all: Halladay goes to some team flush with money like the Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, Phillies or Dodgers, in a deal similar to the one struck between the Sox and Marlins that sent Hanley Ramirez to Florida and brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston. Halladay would obviously be the centerpiece, and I imagine Vernon Wells and his bloated contract would be an add-on, much like Lowell was in the aforementioned deal, in exchange for a name major leaguer and some major-league ready prospects.)
Back to Theo Epstein and the Red Sox “misplaying their hand” … Kay went on to say that having Beckett, Lester and Halladay 1-2-3, with Matsuzaka and Wakefield bringing up the back of the rotation when they come off the DL was a risk the Red Sox had to take, and they didn’t. I still believe they’re a playoff team without Halladay, provided their bullpen can hold up and Francona pushes the right lineup buttons.
Moreover, and Kay of all people knows this from being around the Yankees and Red Sox for so long, it would have been inconsistent with Epstein’s pattern to make a deal for someone like Halladay at the deadline. He’s more apt to jump on it in the offseason, like he did with Curt Schilling, arrange the trade and sign Halladay to an extension right away.
Your thoughts on this are welcome.
This week’s briefing begins with a note from WFAN’s Richard Neer. As I drove home from the golf course Sunday, Neer was entertaining a call from a Mets fan, who in typical Mets fan form – actually, he was calm – ranted about Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran and how the Mets’ core players don’t play smart, and they don’t play hard.
Neer poo-pooed the call, saying – and I paraphrase – that Mets fans are looking for things to get upset about while the team is in first place. Mets fans can’t exist unless there’s something to kvetch about. Well, those calls are even more heated now, since the team from Queens changed its logo from “METS” to “BEARS,” and replaced their names with the “Chico’s Bail Bonds” sponsorship patch.
It got me thinking, though, about the legitimacy of the recent Mariano Rivera arguments that have pervaded local and national Yankee telecasts. Are fans and media alike looking for a negative amidst the best positive streak the Yankees have had this season? Or is it valid that due to his age, Rivera 1) should not pitch more than one inning when called upon, and 2) should not pitch on consecutive days?
My answer to both questions is no. I’m actually surprised the Rivera argument is the focus, when he remains the most consistent pitcher on the Yankees’ staff. From a relief pitching standpoint, who is more reliable? Who has been able to consistently throw Strike One? Phil Coke has, sometimes. So has Alfredo Aceves. Jose Veras? Edwar “Leave off the ‘d’ for ‘Don’t you know I’m throwing a changeup with two strikes’ Ramirez? Brett “I gave up Mark McGwire’s 62nd home run in ’98 and now I’m a Yankee” Tomko? Not so much.
Yes, Joe Girardi has to be mindful of Rivera’s age and use him wisely. Take Monday night, for example. Rivera had logged three innings and thrown 44 pitches over the previous two games. He had not pitched three consecutive days all season and was given the night off. A wise move by Girardi, and with a big lead, his decision seemed validated. That was, of course, until the ninth inning, when the ESPN team of Chris Berman and Orel Hershiser strained as Coke struggled to a “save” to complete the series sweep of the Twins. Intermittently, ESPN cameras cut away to Rivera sitting in the bullpen with his jacket on, looking like he wanted to warm up and get in there if necessary. Poor Phil Coke. At least he didn’t have to endure Berman’s incessant references to “Coke Classic,” “New Coke,” and anything other beverage jokes he could come up with. And he did secure the victory, much to the chagrin of the headline writers of the Post and Daily News, who were probably salivating at the chance of plastering “PHIL CHOKE” on the back page.
Wednesday night, Michael Kay lamented Rivera’s eighth-inning entrance both during the game and in the post-game analysis. Kay’s main beef was that someone else should have pitched the ninth inning, especially after the Yankees blew the game open with six runs in the bottom of the eighth. Rivera threw four pitches in the eighth and needed 10 to get three outs in the ninth. He also yielded his fifth home run of the season.
Kay used those last two points to validate his argument, which upon reading over again, still seems weak, and here’s why: Recent history has shown that the guys who were available – Veras, Ramirez, Tomko, and Jonathan Albaladejo – could not be counted on to get three outs and hold an eight-run lead. Kim Jones didn’t ask why Rivera pitched the ninth on Wednesday, and if it was asked later on, Girardi’s answers will be column fodder for Thursday’s rags.
My opinion: Girardi made the right move. As I’ve written in this space before, and reviewed many times when Steven Goldman’s columns passed my edits, sometimes a save occurs in the eighth inning. This game against the Orioles was one of those times. Leaving him in to pitch the ninth: why not? Isn’t that partly why he’s getting paid upwards of $15 million? What about the possibility that Rivera asked to pitch the ninth? Having been his former catcher, isn’t it possible that Girardi believes that Rivera knows his body better than anyone and that maybe he left the decision to the future Hall of Famer?
Looking at Rivera’s profile, his 2009 workload is being carefully planned, primarily based on pitch count. Wednesday was only the third time all season River was asked to get more than three outs in an appearance – it just so happened that it was the second time in his last three games. And he was pitching on two days’ rest, so he was fresh. Rivera averaged 30 pitches in the two four-out or more appearances. He threw just 14 on Wednesday.
If you were the Yankees manager, how would you handle Rivera? I would likely do the same thing Girardi’s doing. Oh, and under no circumstances, ever, would I have Tomko warming when I need to get one batter out in the ninth inning.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“When the misses are in the same spots (up and in to lefties and up and away to righties) and no adjustments are made, you have to wonder if anything’s going on between the ears.”
— Orel Hershiser, during Phil Coke’s ninth-inning struggles Monday
Until next week …
The past 10 days have seen an immense range of stories leapfrog to the forefront of New York sports fans’ collective consciousness. In no particular order, with some analysis and commentary mixed in…
• The Yankees slashed prices for the primo seats, an altruistic move that still leaves many of us thinking, “You know, you have your own network, and it’s on my cable system. I’ll contribute to your bottom line that way and I won’t feel like I got stabbed in the wallet.”
• Alex Rodriguez did everything necessary in extended spring training and returned to the lineup Friday. He punctuated the return with a home run on the first pitch he saw, thus fulfilling his job as the media-anointed savior of the team’s season. He proceeded to go 1-for-10 with two strikeouts in the remainder of the series, and perhaps fearing aggravating the hip injury, didn’t hustle down the line to run out a ground ball, thus reclaiming his role as the team’s most prominent punching bag.
• The Yankees lost two straight to the Red Sox at home and have lost the first five meetings of the season. (Sound the alarms! Head for the hills! There’s no way the Yankees can win the division without beating the Red Sox! Except that they can, and they have. In 2004, the Yankees went 1-6 in their first seven games against the BoSox, ended up losing the season series 8-11 and still finished 101-61 to win the American League East by three games.)
• Joba Chamberlain 1: His mother was arrested for allegedly selling crystal meth to an undercover officer. Following Chamberlain’s own brushes with the law during the offseason, it stood to reason that the tabloids attacked this story like starving coyotes. It’s remarkable that he was able to pitch at all given the negative attention he received.
• Joba Chamberlain 2: Flash back to Aug. 13, 2007. Chamberlain struck out Orioles first baseman Aubrey Huff in a crucial late-inning at-bat to end the inning and in the heat of the moment pumped his fist in exultation. Yesterday, following a three-run home run in the first inning that gave the O’s a 3-1 lead, Huff mocked Chamberlain’s emotional outburst with his own fist pump, first while rounding first base, and again when crossing home plate. Apparently, Mr. Huff holds grudges. Thanks to the New York Daily News’s headline, “MOCKING BIRD” with a photo of the home-plate celebration, this story will have wings when Baltimore comes to the Bronx next week. Even better, as it currently stands, Chamberlain is due to start in the series finale on Thursday the 21st. Get ready for a rash of redux stories leading up to that game.
• Mariano Rivera surrendered back-to-back home runs for the first time in his career last Wednesday night, a clear signal that something is wrong. Maybe.
• The team as a whole. The Yankees are 15-16 through 31 games, and some rabid fans (the “Spoiled Set,” as Michael Kay likes to call them; the group of fans between ages 18-30 that only knows first-place finishes for the Yankees) are calling for Joe Girardi’s head. As in the above note on the Red Sox, some context is required. The Yankees’ records through 31 games this decade:
2000: 22-9 (finished 87-74, won AL East)
2001: 18-13 (finished 95-65, won AL East)
2002: 18-13 (finished 103-58, won AL East)
2003: 23-8 (finished 101-61, won AL East)
2004: 18-13 (finished 101-61, won AL East)
2005: 12-19 (finished 95-67, won AL East)
2006: 19-12 (finished 97-65, won AL East)
2007: 15-16 (finished 94-68, won AL Wild Card)
2008: 15-16 (finished 89-73, missed playoffs)
2009: 15-16 (finish TBD)
No one is going to make excuses for the team with the billion dollar stadium and the highest payroll, least of all your trusted scribes here at the Banter. Looking at the last three years — including 2009 — it should be noted that similar issues of injury, age, and woes throughout the pitching staff have befallen the Yankees.