AJ Burnett has the fate of the New York Yankees resting squarely upon his shoulders.
Or at least that is what most people think.
A quick look at pertinent numbers for his matchup with Rick Porcello and the Detroit Tigers, and the potential outcome of the game looks very bleak.
Burnett has not pitched well against the Tigers in his career, going 2-2 with a 6.33 ERA. He also sports a 7.17 ERA in Comerica Park. His career postseason ERA is 5.67.
Those numbers don't exactly inspire any confidence that Burnett will rise to the occasion, harness his great stuff and come up with what would arguably be his biggest win as a Yankee.
Many fans have already given up hope that the Yankees will advance. For many it is a forgone conclusion that Burnett will fail and further add to his resume as one of the biggest Yankee busts of all time.
However, baseball is a team game, and while a lot rides on Burnett's start, there are plenty of ways the Yankees could win or lose Game 4.
Win or lose, Burnett doesn't have to necessarily be the hero or the goat.
Here are six scenarios that could occur tonight for the Yankees.
Believe it or not, nobody on the Tigers has completely jaw-dropping numbers against Burnett.
Still, given Burnett's track record and the Tigers potential on offense, nobody would be surprised if Detroit smacks the ball around the park and leaves the Yankees to begin the finger pointing.
In this scenario, Burnett is run out of New York, and everyone says I told you so.
Rick Porcello has a 2-2 record and 5.67 ERA against the Yankees, and he has been terrible in his postseason career.
Still, he has the talent to come up with a clutch pitching performance and shut down the Yankees.
Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira could continue to be non-factors at the plate, and Porcello finds a way to shut down Robinson Cano and the other Yankee hitters.
In this scenario, what Burnett does on the mound won't matter, as the Yankees wouldn't score enough runs to win anyways. The Yankees offense would then be the goat for their early exit from the postseason.
In this scenario, the Yankees put on their hitting shoes and completely dominate Porcello, scoring a ton of runs.
Whether or not Burnett pitches well doesn't matter, as the Yankees have enough runs to win.
Burnett might get a pat on the back for pitching well if they win, but the credit for victory will go to the offense.
If he pitches poorly and they still win, everyone will still be on his case and say that the Yankees won in spite of him.
In this outcome, Burnett harnesses his talent and shuts down the Tigers.
He is a hero in New York for forcing a Game 5, and all is forgotten until his next start.
The offense does little, but it does matter, because Burnett dominates the Tigers and they win a close game.
In this scenario, Burnett pitches poorly, but the Yankee bullpen comes into save the day.
They stop the bleeding, and the offense takes back the lead.
David Robertson, Phil Hughes,or someone else in the bullpen is the pitching hero.
Burnett is still cursed for a bad outing, but the euphoria of going to Game 5 keeps the Yankee fans at bay until his next start.
In this outcome, Burnett pitches well enough to keep the Yankees in the game, or he has a good start.
But the Yankees bullpen loses the lead or lets the Tigers blow the game open, and they take all the heat for the Yankees losing.
Burnett is not blamed for the loss, but he gains no favor with Yankee fans.
What Will Happen?
As worried as Yankees fans might be about Burnett taking the hill tonight, there are still many ways for New York to win or lose it.
Burnett doesn't have to be the goat.
There are plenty of other ways the Yankees could lose.
Burnett doesn't have to be the hero.
There are plenty of other ways the Yankees could win.