January 3 – Happy Birthday A. J. Burnett
AJ Burnett has been driving Yankee fans, including me, crazy since he was signed to that huge $82 million free agent contract in December of 2008. From the very beginning he has proved to be an inconsistent basket case for New York on the mound. In his first Yankee start against arch-rival Boston, he blew a big lead and then the very next time he faced the Red Sox eight weeks later, he got knocked out in the third inning. The inconsistency lasted all season long but his teammates seemed to love the guy (with the possible exception of Jorge Posada) and I have to admit that those whipped cream pies sort of grew on me. Still, a 13-9 record and an ERA over 4.00 no way justified a $16.5 million paycheck.
He then pitched well in his first two 2009 postseason starts but when he gave up those four runs in the first inning of his second start in the Angels series, I was ready to never forgive him. But I did. You want to know why?
I had a choice to attend the first or second game of the 2009 World Series. My work schedule was such that it would be best for me to go to the second game but I knew Burnett was scheduled to pitch and I was worried he would implode and ruin my night. When the Phillies beat Sabathia in Game One, I was even more nervous about Burnett’s composure because, in my opinion, Game Two would be the most important game the Yankees played all year. When my wife and I took our seats in the left-field terrace level of the new Stadium that evening, I honestly thought that with Burnett pitching, there was a good chance New York would be heading to Philly for the third game down 2-0. Instead, I got to watch AJ Burnett earn every penny of that $16.5 million salary and when I left my seat after that game, I knew the Yankees were going to win their 27th World Championship.
But its now been two long years since Burnett pitched that gem against the Phillies and New York has not been back to the World Series since. Burnett’s second and third regular seasons in pinstripes have been disasters and his ERA in both years climbed into the five’s. It has gone from not knowing what to expect when AJ takes the mound to expecting the worst. From having a great shot at getting a win to praying the team doesn’t lose. And just when I’m about to write him off forever and never watch another game in which he starts, he shows up and does what he did to Detroit in the fourth game of the 2011 ALDS.
I am ready to give AJ one more chance to convince me he’s worth rooting for in 2012, but this is it. If he starts throwing those damn curveballs five feet short of the plate and begins walking bottom of the line-up guys I’m through with him. I’m sick of hearing his teammates claim he’s got great stuff. I have to see it with my own eyes, consistently, start after start, for longer than two or three innings.