Monday, August 2, 2010
'Bad A.J.' reappears vs. Blue Jays
By Andrew Marchand
NEW YORK -- The good news for the tied-for-first-place New York Yankees is A.J. Burnett didn't hurt himself. There were no self-inflicted wounds for attacking clubhouse doors, and he didn't have to go to the principal's office for fibbing.
The bad news for the Yankees is Burnett is such a large October question mark. The Yankees never know how much concentration he has on a given night. They don't know whether Good A.J. or Bad A.J. will show up.
On Monday, Bad A.J. arrived out of nowhere in the fifth inning and the Yankees slid into a tie for first in the American League East.
Following the Yankees' 8-6 loss to the Blue Jays, they are deadlocked with the younger Rays after 105 games. The Red Sox remain 6½ games back. Boston is not out of the picture yet, because there are too many games left to anoint the wild-card winner.
So September could be filled with some very big matchups, which returns us to Burnett's inconsistency.
While Alex Rodriguez's chase for 600 extended to 43 at-bats, Burnett made some history for himself. He did most of the heavy lifting in tying an AL record as the Yankees allowed six doubles in the fifth. It had happened twice before. (The Yankees gave up six doubles to the Rangers on July 31, 2002, in the second inning.)
In all, Burnett allowed eight runs and couldn't escape the fifth.
Burnett, though, handled this setback much better than he did weeks ago after lasting two innings in a 10-5 loss to the Rays. In that one, he ended up with cuts on his hands following a post-outing outburst.
"I'm not going to let it ruin my life," said Burnett, who had pitched 11 1/3 scoreless innings since the incident. "I'm going to look at it and see how to fix it."
What went wrong is what seems to always happen to Burnett. He unraveled suddenly and with incredible speed. It is like he can be slightly nudged off course and suddenly there is a 12-car pileup.
"He had it for four innings, then all of a sudden, his pitches hit the middle of the plate," Jorge Posada said.
After a 1-2-3 first that ended with a 92 mph fastball that left Jose Bautista with no chance, Nick Swisher nailed a two-run homer to give Burnett room to work.
But Burnett immediately began giving it back. Leading off the second, Vernon Wells nailed a just-inside-the-foul-poll shot for a solo homer. Burnett put runners on first and second with one out, but escaped the inning and followed with a scoreless third and fourth.
The 12-car pileup occurred in the fifth, when the Blue Jays left Burnett black and blue, figuratively speaking on the night. By the time he was booed off the mound, Burnett had allowed five doubles, a home run and seven runs.
Burnett -- who didn't have his curve all game -- began the inning by giving up his first double, and then Edwin Encarnacion went deep. That was troubling enough, but then Burnett walked the No. 9 hitter, Jose Molina.
Of the next six hitters, four nailed doubles, leaving Burnett to make the lonely walk off the mound, having failed to keep the Yankees in first place.
Despite the Rays game when he sliced up his hands, Burnett had a very good July after a terrible June. He was 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in 27 July innings, which was a vast improvement over his previous month, when he finished 0-5 with an 11.35 ERA.
But this is exactly what Burnett is: up and down. Good and bad. Reliable and then suddenly unreliable.
The Yankees know that they are in a fight in the toughest division in baseball. They also realize pitching is what gets you through October. That is why they went so hard after Cliff Lee. They like guarantees.
Now, they are tied for first.
"The only thing I can say is that I thought this thing was going to go down to the wire," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "You are going to have good times and bad times. You try to keep your bad times as short as possible."
That is what the Yankees want from Burnett, but once he looks like the good A.J., the bad A.J. can appear out of nowhere. That is why the Yankees are not guaranteed anything -- even with the wild card as a fallback position.
Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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