I can guarantee you that at least 90-95% of Yankee fans out there, including myself, are happy that AJ Burnett was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. There’s no denying that AJ needed to go. Guys like Freddy Garcia, who is coming off an impressive 2011, and Phil Hughes, who is in shape and could have a big year to go along with being 25 years of age, deserve rotation spots over Burnett. With that said, I think it’d be a little awkward, to say the least, to have a $16.5 million mop up man in the bullpen. Now that he’s gone, I’d like to reflect back on the positives of the A.J Burnett era during his time in the Bronx…April 9, 2009: After CC Sabathia and Chien-Ming Wang got roughed up in the first two games of the season against the Baltimore Orioles, AJ Burnett—who was making his first career start as a Yankee—needed to have a big start, considering most of the mainstream media and fans were calling this a “must-win game” even though it was the third game of the season. Burnett did in fact get off on the right foot, going 5.2 innings, allowing two runs on seven hits, two walks, and six strikeouts.
August 7, 2009: Following his first two starts against the Red Sox as a Yankee, (0-2, 12.91 ERA, 4/8 K/BB), AJ Burnett sought out to gain revenge against the Yankees’ biggest foes. Burnett was opposing Josh Beckett, and both dominated. AJ went 7.2 innings, allowing just one hit (a bloop single to Jacoby Ellsbury to lead off the game), on six walks and six strikeouts. I remember getting chills when he was lifted in the eighth inning as the Stadium crowd arose as one to give AJ a big hand. That was a huge start for him, and he needed to prove he can pitch in a big game against the arch-rival Red Sox, and he certainly did.2009 ALDS and ALCS Game 2’s: In Burnett’s first career postseason start as a Yankee he stepped on the mound knowing he had a 1-0 series advantage against the Minnesota Twins, but nonetheless, the pressure was on him, and he delivered. Burnett went 6 innings, allowing one run on three hits and five walks while punching out six. He didn’t get the win, as Mark Teixeira hit a laser beam home run down the left field line in extras. Meanwhile, the scenario was the same in Burnett’s Game 2 start against the Angels in the ALCS; handed the ball with a 1-0 series advantage, yet again with the spotlight on him, and once again, he delivered. Burnett went 6.1 innings, allowing two runs on three hits, two walks while striking out four. And like his start against the Twins, he didn’t get the win, as Jerry Hairston scored the game winning run on an error in extra frames.2009 World Series Game 2: Down in the series 1-0, this was clearly not only AJ Burnett’s biggest start as a Yankee, but the biggest start in his career. This game was as close to a must-win game as they come, because you don’t want to go back to Philadelphia—who were the defending champs at the time—down 2-0 in the series. Burnett was absolutely huge in this game as he went 7 innings, allowing just one run on four hits, two walks, and nine strikeouts. I remember his curve ball being extra nasty that evening, and if you factor in the circumstances, this was AJ Burnett’s best start in his career.2011 ALDS Game 4: Unlike Game 2 of the ’09 World Series, this was literally a must-win game, as the Yanks were down 2-1 in the series to the Detroit Tigers, and Burnett was pretty solid, at least solid enough, to pick up the win. He went 5.2 innings, allowing one run on four hits, four walks, and three strikeouts. But, you cannot deny that Curtis Granderson saved Burnett’s bacon in the first inning with his leaping catch to save three runs. If that ball falls down, the Yanks are in an early hole and Burnett gets pulled. And of course, this was Burnett’s final start as a Yankee, so at least he went out with a bang.
Health: I will give AJ a lot of credit for this. Burnett made at least 32 starts every year during his time in Pinstripes and only 10 other starting pitchers from ’09-’11 made more starts . Even though he was sub-par with the Yanks, at least he took the ball every fifth day and didn’t go down even if he had the slightest injury.Pie in the face: This is probably the one thing I’ll miss about AJ Burnett. The pies in the face following a Yankees walk off win. The tradition started on an afternoon in May of 2009. The Yankees were playing the Twins and ARod hit a walk off home run in extra innings off Craig Breslow. And suddenly, out of nowhere, AJ Burnett came out and pied ARod in the face. Read the story about it HERE.
That’s pretty much it for Burnett. A nice handful of very good postseason games, to go along with a few gems (those weren’t the only two, those were the two that stand out the most, at least in my eye.) in the regular season, to go along with staying healthy during his three years in Pinstripes.
--Jesse Schindler, BYB Staff Writer
Please comment, we have DISQUS, it's easier than ever. Let me know what you think and follow me on Twitter @BleednYankeeBlu and join the group Bleeding Yankee Blue on Facebook, just type it in.