To Red Sox Nation, it's a juicy opportunity for their team to separate themselves once and for all from the pesky Bombers who continue to remain – as they have, give or take a game or two, for most of the season – an annoying 1.5 games behind them in the divisional race.
For Yankee Universe, it's a gut check wherein the primary hope is their team can close that gap and, in the process, somewhat narrow the lopsided 2-10 chasm in the season series with their rival.
The fact both teams are near certain locks for post-season berths regardless of the series' outcome hasn't dampened the intensity of interest in it a bit. MVP candidates and rotation tweaking for the home stretch and post-season rosters have galvanized the attention of Nation and Universe dwellers alike.
The pitching matchups: Lackey vs. Sabathia. Beckett vs. Hughes. Lester vs. Burnett.
Whoa! Hold the Xanax! Did someone say AJ?
You mean AJ, the human bomb whose sudden and spectacular implosions light up scoreboards like a CIA drone lights up an Al-Qaeda encampment?
You mean AJ, whose two remaining contract years loom like concrete galoshes on the team's payroll and whose stats pull on the team's won-loss record like the Titanic's anchor hooked it on the way to the bottom.
You mean AJ, who has driven thousands to scour the American Psychiatric Association's Manual of Mental Disorders in search of clues to the frightening malady they are convinced afflicts not only him but his chief defenders, manager Joe Girardi and GM Brian Cashman, as well?
Yessiree, AJ Burnett, whose season has been so irretrievably awful that listing the ways it could be worse would take considerably less time than listing all the ways it can't, is pitching the series finale
On the face of it, many if not most Yankee fans are aghast and aggrieved by the announcement he will be appearing in the series rotation. Most have simply written it off as an incredibly inept, poorly timed last, last, absolutely last chance for Burnett to save his starting job -- along with the egg-covered faces of the organization's upper echelon who signed him for a pretty price three years ago.
However, if one digs deep enough one can actually find some silver linings in this seemingly revolting development that has Red Sox Nation universally giggling in anticipation. In fact, Yankee fans would do well to embrace this scheduled disaster -- win or lose -- with a pleased and peaceful smile rather than frozen terror on their faces.
1) The first and most obvious reason to love it is that if he gets creamed early and badly it should be the message in a bottle that finally convinces the organization he's fit for neither the rotation nor the post-season roster; and perhaps even think about cutting their losses where he's concerned entirely...and let's face it, if any team is likely to send that message the loudest it's Boston.
2) It creates the ultimate trap game for the Sox. Think of it: Virtually nobody in either fan base (or dugout) expects AJ to do anything but get shelled, so the pressure will all be on the Sox not to lose. Every out he records and every inning they don't score off him will be an embarrassment to their lineup. At the very least, it holds the potential for some amusing moments that could provide fans of the pinstripes some rare chucks and giggles before he implodes.
3) The team's tried everything over the last year and a half to baby AJ, shield him from criticism and protect him from facing the toughest lineups. But the one thing they haven't tried is to actually put him in a high-leverage game against a tough team at a crucial point in the season that could - in one fell swooping knuckle curve -- return him from the grave and make him a hero to his teammates and the entire fan base.
Longshot? Of course it is.
But ...if he somehow some way miraculously steps up and delivers a gem -- or anything like it -- it's the kind of high-impact showcase that could turn his whole season around and give the Bombers a whirlwind of momentum coming out of the series no matter how the first two games came out. Even if he's the loser but somehow manages to hold his own, it would send a powerful message to the team's members, opponents and fan base they are truly a force to be reckoned with -- even with AJ's sorry butt on the bump.
4) The team needs to conserve Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon, whose performances and innings counts have soared higher than anyone possibly imagined they ever could at the beginning of the season. AJ's most recent extended run of starts have proven little better than forfeits anyway, and since the team has no hope of catching Boston in the season series to gain a tie-breaker, why not burn him up in Boston?
5) Along with the overconfidence factor a typical Hurricane AJ performance would breed in the team's likely future playoff opponents, there's also the fact that the Yankees will be bringing up long reliever/spot starter Hector Noesi and probably at least one of their homegrown pitching prospect Killer B's for the stretch run and post-season roster. Why show Boston's batters their stuff now? Rosters expand just after this series ends in a few days. No need to rush them up or take them out of their routines down on the farm until it's necessary. (Likewise for the inevitable Jorge Posada/Jesus Montero swap, by the way, but that's another conversation.)
Whether you're a member of the Universe or the Nation; whether you're rooting for this game to be AJ's final act of self-immolation or his golden ticket to the chocolate factory; whether you enjoy comedies, dramas, sci-fi or gore, there's something for everyone to look forward to in this start.
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition. The final battle for the soul of AJ is at hand at last. Watch it with someone you love.
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