The Yankees did what the Yankees do on Wednesday night — they hit homers, scored a ton of runs and covered up whatever shortcomings stood between the team and victory.
In a game where the lineup crossed the plate 18 times and the bullpen allowed one hit in 4 2/3 innings, it doesn't take a genius to figure out whose slack needed to picked up at U.S. Cellular Field.
A.J. Burnett has spent the 2011 season living under the radar. This is hard for any supposed No. 2 pitcher to do, let alone a No. 2 pitcher who gets paid by the New York Yankees. I guess this happens when you're coming off one of the worst statistical seasons in franchise history. In 2010, Burnett lost 15 games with an ERA well north of 5.00. His meatball to Bengie Molina in Game 4 of the ALCS all but sealed New York's hopes of a repeat.
Saying Burnett merely struggled is like saying the Ryan Reynolds-Jason Bateman body-switch movie only slightly lowered the artistic bar in Hollywood.
The result of such suckitude has been a serious temperance in expectations. Gone is the hope that a pitcher being paid $82 million could be a second ace. Yankees fans just hope he can get through a season without one of those 0-5 months that beat up bullpens and obliterate momentum.
Of course, Burnett doesn't deserve the slack he gets. Wednesday night provided us the perfect summation of everything that's wrong with the right-hander. From the first White Sox batter, it was clear Burnett had no stuff. He couldn't locate his fastball and every curve amounted to a cement mixer. As CC Sabathia proves often, lacking your full artillery is no excuse for a bad night. Sabathia routinely pitches deep into games without his best stuff, as evident by his start that opened this series.
This is a concept that Burnett cannot or will not wrap his head around. To Burnett, bad stuff equals bad start and the hope things are better in five days. Burnett seemed resigned to this Wednesday, not showing an ounce of competitiveness until there was one out in the fifth.
That's when Joe Girardi came to get the pitcher who couldn't find a way to qualify for a win despite a 13-1 lead. It was 13-7 when he exited with runners on second and third. Burnett pushed the ball into Girardi's hand and stalked off the mound before the manager could even get to him. The YES camera followed him to the dugout, catching him as he ripped off his jersey and disappeared from view.
His final line told the story: 4.1 IP, 13 H, 7 ER, 3 K, 0 BB.
Despite all the chatter about six starters for five spots and Phil Hughes pitching for his job, Burnett remains teflon, completely safe despite subpar production. Burnett's job security was evident in a postgame presser where he seemed completely at ease despite the storm cloud that should be overhead.
“I get to go in five days,” Burnett said. “That’s about it. It was one of them days, man.”
Girardi defended his starter after the game, brushing off Burnett's aggro walk from the mound while pumping up the right-hander's body of work this season.
“He’s starting on Wednesday,” Girardi said. “His numbers aren’t that bad. If you look at the numbers of Hughes, I mean, Hughesy made one good start. We look at the whole year, and A.J.’s been decent for us.”
That's where we're at. The Yankees manager is covering for his No. 2 pitcher by pointing out the failures of his No. 3. It turns out that Burnett's 2010 season didn't stay there. The ripples of those 35 starts have carried over. The bar is near the ground now, warping the perspective of what should be expected from the "ace" behind the ace.
Dan Hanzus is a regular contributor to Pinstripe Alley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @danhanzus.