- Andrew Marchand, ESPNNewYork.com
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NEW YORK -- They are as different as their hairstyles. The consistent Mariano Rivera has barely changed his in his 17 seasons, even though it is once again the time of year to ask if his cutter is finally receding.
On Tuesday, A.J. Burnett -- the anti-Rivera -- went with the look of a surf-boarding California teenager. After remaining winless in August as a Yankee, the bleached blonde basically said, "Dude, I pitched fine."
Really, Burnett once again confirmed that we should finally, once and for all, forget mentioning him as a possible No. 2 starter and ask if he is even a No. 5.
For his part, Joe Girardi has spoken and said he won't even think about taking Burnett out of the rotation.
If so, the Blonde Ambition Tour is expected to be rocking -- or getting rocked? -- on Monday in Kansas City.
As for Rivera, he has now blown the past two Yankees games, on Sunday night to the Red Sox and Tuesday when Bobby Abreu hit a two-run shot in the ninth in the Angels' 6-4 win.
So after a cutter that didn't cut, the annual tune -- is this the beginning of the end of the great Rivera? -- must be brought up, but only a fool would claim it is here.
At 41, though, it is something to watch; especially against left-handed hitters.
There is a disturbing trend as lefties keep hitting Rivera better and better. In 2008, they were at a .147 clip. It moved to .182 in 2009 and .214 in 2010. This year, it has skyrocketed to .267.
Meanwhile, Burnett's story is the same old story.
For five scoreless, Burnett looked like the Blond Bomber. In the sixth, he was the Bombed Blond.
Girardi should reconsider pulling Burnett from the rotation if Phil Hughes -- starting Saturday -- can prove he belongs for good. Hughes, who owns two good starts all season, can improve. To think Burnett, at 34, can change more than his hair color seems to be the definition of insanity.
For Burnett, Tuesday night looked like every other night, except for the hair. Burnett bleached it blond because his family called him "chicken," wanting him to emulate his 7-year-old son's look. It would have been a nicer little tale had Burnett just finished off the night.
He cruised for five innings before Abreu knocked a solo shot and the scruples out of Burnett's head. He went haywire after that, walking three -- one intentionally thanks to Girardi -- and allowing four runs.
Girardi keeps saying the Yankees will pare down to five starters eventually. Burnett, even at $16.5 million, can only concentrate for so long in a season.
He hasn't won in August since George W. Bush was president. He has gone 15 starts -- which is almost half a season's worth -- without picking up a victory in the month. His last win was in 2008. He has never won a game in August as a Yankee.
It is not only that he loses, but he is cruel to leads, no matter if they are big or small. On Tuesday, it was only 1-0 when he fell apart. Last week, he could not hold on long enough to a 13-1 lead to pick up a W.
On his current 2011 seven-game winless streak he has had the lead in six of them.
"I haven't won in a long time," said Burnett, who is 8-9 with a 4.60 ERA. "I think I've pitched a lot of games that I could have won. I think a lot of things are out of my hands and are out of my control. I've given three runs in 20-something of my starts. If that is not good enough to win, I don't know what is."
Actually, he has allowed three runs or fewer in 14 of his 24 starts.
Tell us if you have heard this before. Everything was going swimmingly for Burnett through the first five innings. He had put up zero after zero, mixing textbook 95-mph fastballs with 85-mph off-speed stuff and pitching to some good luck. But then the sixth happened.
It started with an Abreu solo shot into the right-field seats and then quicker than you could pick a new hair color, Burnett's night disintegrated.
Burnett looked as though maybe, just maybe, he would finally put all the words into action. For six months, since the opening of spring training, coming off his 10-15, 5.26 campaign in 2010, Burnett has been talking about shrugging off solo shots. Immediately after the Abreu cannon, Torii Hunter flew out to right.
Burnett next walked the .261-hitting Mark Trumbo, which is not an easy thing to do. It was just Trumbo's 20th walk in 107 games. It only took Burnett four pitches.
"He had had a couple of hits off of him," Girardi said. "He was five-for-his last 13 or 14 off of him, [the next batter Peter] Bourjos hadn't seen a lot of him and hadn't gotten the ball out of the infield up to that point. I just liked the matchup better.
Burnett, clearly losing his focus, walked Bourjos, the No. 8 hitter.
"Wildness is missing by four feet, not two inches," Burnett said. "So I wouldn't call it wildness."
He smashed a long and high ground-rule double. Two more runs scored. A Burnett wild pitch later allowed the fourth and final run to score.
The Yankees took him off the hook, but Rivera failed in the ninth. The two-run blast from Abreu was on a cutter that didn't cut. The Yankees have lost three in a row and Rivera has two of the losses.
"One has nothing to do with the other," Rivera said of Sunday in Fenway and Tuesday in the Bronx.
Who is going to doubt Rivera?
We all know what Burnett is: He is barely a No. 5 starter. Burnett, despite his contract, will have little or no impact on this Yankees' postseason. He is an untrustworthy non-factor, who is maybe the least popular player with the team's fans.
"You can't help not to listen to it," Burnett said. "But, like I said, if you pitch better, that noise on the outside goes away. I seem to get close and close and close every time out there and then it is just one little thing. I'm not far away. I believe that."
Barely anyone else does. Rivera, on the other hand, is impossible not to believe in, even with a birth certificate from 1969.
We all know what Rivera is: He is the greatest closer of all time. A day will come when he is no longer. No one can say that is now. It is a question -- a more serious question -- for tomorrow.
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