A.J. Burnett Proves He's a Halloween Treat
In New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There's nothing you can't do, now you're in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you, let's hear it for New York
This is the chorus (as sung by Grammy winner Alicia Keys) to Jay-Z's current hit single "Empire State of Mind."
The duo performed this song prior to Game Two of the World Series last night, and the chorus of this hit record resonated with me after my Yankees won a thrilling 3-1 game over the Philadelphia Phillies, tying the series at one game apiece.
After Phillie ace Cliff Lee muffled the Yankee bats in Game One with the best pitching performance of this postseason, a nervous Yankee Nation pinned their hopes on A.J. Burnett, the pitcher who Brian Cashman gave 82 million reasons to sign with New York during last winter's season of discontent.
And boy, did he deliver.
How good was A.J. Burnett?
Last night (according to Tyler Kepner of the Yankees blog on the New York Times website), he became the first Yankee pitcher in the last 50 postseason starts to go seven innings and only allow four hits or fewer, one earned run or fewer, and at least nine strikeouts.
Now that's what you call money well spent, boys and girls.
As any baseball fan will tell you, pitching wins World Series titles. The biggest reason why the Yankees have failed to win a title during the last nine years is because Cashman and the George Steinbrenner Coalition down in Tampa have been unable to put the right pitching staff in place.
Too many failed acquisitions (Randy Johnson, Kevin Brown, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright) led to too many strikeouts in the front office.
When Burnett was signed, the big knock on him was that he couldn't stay healthy and that he didn't have any postseason experience.
In his first regular season pitching under the white-hot glare of the New York media, Burnett was good. But like all great performers, he's saving his best for the final act, and last night he was simply marvelous.
He fired first pitch strikes to 22 of the 26 batters he faced. He dominated the fearsome, middle-of-the-order duo of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. He also needed just 108 pitches, which will bode well for him (and us) when Joe Girardi calls his number again in Game Five.
He got help from Mark Teixeira, who broke out of his postseason slump to hit a solo shot off Yankee nemesis Pedro Martinez in the fourth inning, and from Hideki Matsui, who also blasted a solo homer off Pedro in the fifth.
Now the action shifts to the City of Brotherly Love. Since Halloween is upon us, I would be remiss if I didn't quickly the address some of the things that, as a Yankee fan, turns me into a bit of a scaredy cat.
The Yankee Bats
I agree with Johnny Damon, who said that "if it wasn't for Alex Rodriguez, we wouldn't be in the World Series." A-Rod got us here, and now he's struggling big time. In the first two games he's 0-for-8 with six strikeouts.
But he is hardly alone. Only Derek Jeter and Melky Cabrera have gotten consistent hits during these first two games.
The funny thing is that most experts predicted that this World Series would be a bigger shootout than the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But so far that's not the case. We need the Yankee bats to wake up, the sooner the better.
Last night my Yankee buddy Anthony texted me after Mariano Rivera entered in the eighth inning to relieve Burnett.
"I don't like using Mo this early."
I agreed, but what was Girardi supposed to do?
Have faith in Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, two relief pitchers who have clearly broken out with a case of postseason hives?
I don't think so.
Girardi can be guilty of over-managing, but last night he made the right call. Who do you trust with Jimmy Rollins on second, Shane Victorino on first, Utley at the plate with one out, and Yankee Nation squirming in their seats like a three-year-old who has to go to the bathroom?
There was nobody who we would have wanted in that hot seat more than Mo.
We can't expect every pitcher to go seven innings like Burnett did last night. Eventually Chamberlain and Hughes are going to have to play, for better or worse, a deciding role in who wins this World Series.
That's a scenario that scares me more than Michael Myers stalking Jamie Lee Curtis in the first Halloween movie!
They did it again last night. This time the goat was first base umpire Brian Gorman, who blew two calls on the world's biggest stage. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Damon sent a liner to Howard, who quickly scooped the ball off the ground and fired it to Jimmy Rollins, who then tagged Jorge Posada for a phantom double play.
Gorman huddled with the other umpires, and they still got the call wrong. Howard never caught the ball, and common sense should've told Gorman that if Howard did in fact catch it, he would've tagged first instead of throwing to second for the force out.
Then, in the very next inning, Utley hit a weak bouncer to Robinson Cano, who tossed it to Jeter, who tagged second, and fired it to Teixeira for the biggest double play of the season. But replays showed that Gorman was wrong again because Utley beat the throw.
The performance of these umpires in this postseason has been both catatonic and catastrophic. I'm not even going to waste my time talking about the need for instant replay. Instead I'm going to ask a simple question:
Does anyone fully trust these officials? Because I sure as hell don't!
The Resiliency of a Champion
The Philadelphia Phillies have strong pitching, a powerful lineup, a surprisingly sharp bullpen, and a solid manager in Charlie Manuel. In other words, they are an American League team that plays in the National League.
They are the Yankees' equal in every way. They have the tenacity, the swagger, the experience, and the confidence.
The Minnesota Twins folded under pressure. The Orange County Angels folded under pressure. The Philadelphia Phillies will do no such thing. They punched us in the mouth on Wednesday night. Last night, we returned the favor.
It is now up to them to respond like the champions they are.
And they will.
Which brings me back to A.J. Burnett, who accepted the challenge of resuscitating the championship hopes of the Bronx Bombers. It was Russell Crowe who said, in his Oscar-winning role as Maximus in Gladiator, "What we do in life echoes in eternity."
If the Yankees are in fact a team of destiny, and if they do in fact win their 27th World Series, they will have Burnett's season-saving performance in Game Two to be thankful for. It was a performance that, if we win it all, will be remembered "in the echoes of eternity."
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