Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I Ruined A.J. Burnett's No-Hitter

(Last night, as I watched A.J. Burnett dazzle the Rays, things around me started to change. The dim room began to buzz, and the dull components of my apartment glowed with life. The tall, beige, industrial heater (always an eyesore and sometimes emitting the odor of burning rust) owned a thrilling dignity I’d never noticed. The ancient couch cushions, stained to variable shades of blue by years of unrepentant spilling, suddenly contained the multi-hued spectrum of the sea. And the purple blotches on my fingertips, acquired from a bag of frozen blackberries, became historical remnants, scars from some nobler event. All this, you understand, because Burnett was throwing a no-hitter. The room was electric. And what better way to jinx the endeavor, you ask, then to anticipate the best and start a live blog two-thirds of the way through the game?

I apologize, A.J. It won’t happen again, until it does. We pick up the action in the bottom of the sixth.)

8:50: Things are getting crazy in Tampa. AJ is absolutely locked in. No-hitter through 5, and Iwamura’s leading off. A few minutes ago, my stepfather sent our Yankee circle this e-mail: “AJ is like me in many ways, not the least of which is, he's ONE HELL OF A STUD!”

8:51: Moving away from Burnett for a very quick second, it’s worth mentioning that Nick Swisher is owning the Rays. After striking out Gabe Kapler last night in the pitching performance of the year, he’s 2-3 with a double and a home run. The dinger immediately followed a questionable brushback by Garza, who is a very unlikable human being. Before the game, they showed him sitting on the Tampa bench, listening to rap (presumably), and flailing his arms around like the coolest kid in school. He was all by himself, but seemed very aware of the camera.

As Swisher trotted around the bases, Kapler glared from the dugout. That man does not seemed pleased with the emergence of Crazy Nick.

8:52: Iwamura strikes out looking, fastball on the corner! The YES Network shows footage of Burnett’s first no-hitter, which took place on May 12, 2001 when he pitched for Florida. Want to hear something really fucked up? Both games were in the same state.


I just fact-checked, and it turns out the Marlins were playing in San Diego that day.

But still!

According to Flaherty, Burnett hasn’t shaken Molina off all game. On the next pitch, to Jason Bartlett, Burnett shakes off a fastball. David Cone points it out from the booth, with his inimitable glee, and Flaherty tries to save face by asserting that they’re “clearly on the same page.”

8:54: Bartlett drills one that’s about a hundred feet foul, but I still practically leapt off the couch. I am way too excited, way too early.

8:55: AHHH! Bartlett smokes one to left, but directly at Swisher. Two away in the sixth. Good God. At least get through this inning, A.J., so I don’t look like a complete fool.

8:56: B.J. Upton is terrifying to behold at the plate. He’s like Cano in that sense. He just looks imposing and ultra-athletic. But now he’s down 0-2 after a 92mph fastball right down the middle.

8:57: Strike 3! Upton’s gone! Inning over! No-hitter through 6!!!!! Come on AJ!

8:57: Michael Kay, sensing the moment, wants us to call our friends and tell them to put on the Yes Network. Especially, he says, those friends who are watching ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ A nation wonders: when will Michael Kay and ‘Dancing With the Stars’ bury the hatchet? They’re tearing us apart.

8:59: Exactly twenty-four hours after my gushing post, Robinson Cano started to look terrible. Today is no exception. He’s swinging at ugly pitches, not being patient, and hitting weak grounders. On his last appearance, he didn’t run out a grounder to first. Is the old lazy Cano back?

9:00: YES shows Burnett’s only baserunner of the night, a walk to Burrell on a bad slider. That’s all that stands between him and a perfect game.

9:01: Cano strikes out on a down-and-in breaking ball. Crap. Sweet Robbie looks like his old self, which is not a pleasing sign.

9:02: Michael Kay mentions BJ Upton’s ridiculous basket catch from last night. On the difficulty scale, that has to be one of the greatest I’ve ever seen.

9:03: Nady’s sharply-hit grounder goes off Longoria’s glove and into the outfield for a hit. I’m very, very torn right now. Our lead is only 2-0, and we need this game, but wouldn’t it be better if AJ got back to the mound right away? To stay in rhythm? I’ve already decided to blame Girardi for not having everyone bunt to the pitcher if the no-hit bid fails.

9:05: Nobody is near Burnett. He’s all alone on the bench, with a towel or a thick sleeve wrapped around his right arm. There’s about twenty feet of separation between he and the closest Yankee (Joba, wearing his trademark goofy grin).

9:06: Michael Kay thinks he’ll be blamed if the no-hitter doesn’t happen, since he’s mentioned it so much. Time to visit and check the spelling of ‘solipsistic.’

9:07: Something about David Cone is very likeable. He’s talking about his own no-hitter, back in the day, and how a back-up catcher warmed him up when the regular catcher was on base and couldn’t get ready on time. Somehow he doesn’t sound arrogant or self-important. Just a humble dude relating a story. I don’t really know what I’m saying, here. I just like David Cone. A lot. I’d like to be his best friend. I should find his address…

9:09: Garza has thrown 111 pitches. Full count to Molina. Jose chases a low slider for the third out. Seventh inning stretch.

9:11: YES is showing footage of Cone’s no-hitter. Game on. The always-tough Crawford steps into the box. Goes down 0-2. Fights off a tough curve. Son of a bitch I’m nervous.

9:13: Pugnacious at-bat from Carl, fighting off some very good pitches. My room is completely dark except for the glow of the television and computer, and it smells like an impending fire since apparently spring doesn’t exist and my heater rumbles to life.

9:13: And there’s a base hit to left. Fuck.

9:14: My night is ruined. This is the most public yet of my many humiliations. Goodbye.

9:17: I’m back. I might as well finish this one out. At the end of the day it would still be a big win. The score is now 2-1. Longoria and Pena followed Crawford with two singles. Burrell up, still no outs.

9:18: Starting to wonder if I jinxed Burnett with this live blog…

9:19: Sac fly to right, tie game. After last night, a loss here would be really tough to take. I’m starting to get sullen.

9:21: Great inside-out fastball from Burnett. Navarro down on strikes.

9:22: Molina snaps a throw from his knees to pick Pena off at first. Beautiful. It’s a real shame this guy can’t hit, because I don’t know if there’s a better defensive catcher in the league.

9:23: I’ll reiterate: we need this game. If Tampa Bay somehow comes back to win, they’d take the series and deal us a very disheartening blow. Not the kind of momentum you want for Thursday’s stadium opener.

9:25: As well as he pitched all game, A.J. lost focus for a few batters after Crawford’s hit. I can easily understand why, but it would’ve been great if he’d buckled down. Of course, if it was me, judging by my reactions as a spectator, I would’ve sat on the mound, tried to tear apart my glove, failed, kicked the rubber in frustration, shattered my ankle, and limped off crying.

9:26: Gardner is batting .240. We need something more out of him. Speed is nice, but you have to be on base to use it. .240 doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the big picture. We’d almost be better off with Melky. (I don’t really believe that)

9:27: And just as I say it, he lifts a double over Crawford’s head in left!

9:28: Bunt, Jeter. Bunt. If we can’t score Gardner in this situation, we don’t deserve this win.

9:28: After showing bunt, Jeter takes a strike. If he doesn’t bunt here, I want Girardi’s head on a stick. This is inexcusable.

He’s not bunting. I’m distraught. 2-1. How can he possibly not bunt here, with no outs? 3-1. Even a walk isn’t great, because it puts the double play on. We need Brett at third after this at-bat.

9:29: There’s strike two. If he strikes out here…

9:30: Jeter barely, and I mean barely, loops a base hit over Iwamura’s head at second. If he had caught that, Gardner wouldn’t have advanced. I hate that call by Girardi. Hate it.

9:32: Howell is making Teixeira look silly with slow curves. A strike-out here would be a disaster. No outs. 2-2.

9:34: Great job by Tex. Warning track bomb to left scores Gardner. The lead is ours. You have to wonder if Burnett is coming back next inning.

9:36: Swisher up! He’s batting .478 with four homers this year.

9:38: Swisher flies to center, Posada grounds out. Middle of the 8th.

AJ’s back. I think I like this call. Zobrist hits a foul to the left side, and Swisher makes a running catch by the Yankee bullpen. He’s all smiles as he flicks it to Jeter. The state of Florida officially hates Nick Swisher. On a side note, one of my pet peeves is ballparks where the bullpen is on the field of play. They shouldn’t even call it a bullpen. They should call it…a bull-field…an enclosureless bull-field.

9:42: Iwamura grounds out to Cano. Two away. After his brief lapse into mediocrity, Burnett looks masterful again.

9:43: Michael Kay says this is the second time Burnett has “picked up” Chien-Ming Wang. As though Wang is completely appreciative. “Hey A.J, just wanted to touch base for a second and say thanks for pitching so well. That fact that you dominated immediately after my awful start, and made me look even worse by comparison, is just fantastic!” (Taiwanese translator: ‘Do you really want me to tell him that?’)

9:44: Bartlett grounds to short, and Jeter makes a nice charging play. End of the 8th. AJ has only thrown 103 pitches, and is theoretically available for the 9th. But I think at this point, you bring in Mariano, one of the few Yankees who didn’t pitch yesterday.

9:47: Robbie goes the opposite way for an effortless single off Wheeler! Beautiful, that’s what I love to see. For some reason, I feel heavily invested in his output this year.

9:48: Melky “double play” Cabrera is pinch-hitting. And sure enough, he hits a grounder to second…but it sneaks through for a base hit. First and second, none away.

9:51: After a failed bunt by Pena, Girardi is on the field. It looked like Navarro may have touched the ball to knock it foul, but replays show that he just stayed away. Good move by Girardi getting back to the dugout. Being ejected for arguing a correct call is the last kind of publicity he needs right now.

9:52: Ramiro Pena fails to lay one down. When weak-hitting players can’t bunt, it’s pretty annoying. If the guy was a home-run hitter or a superstar, I’d understand. But come on, do something at the plate. With two strikes, he flies out to Upton the range-covering gazelle, and the runners don’t advance. That at-bat could come back to bite us.

9:55: Molina flails at a slider. Two down. On first and second, the runners sit down and break out the picnic baskets. We asked for this with that anemic bottom part of the order.

9:58: Gardner drills it to dead center, and even Upton can’t catch up with this one! Ground rule double, 4-2 Yanks. Yesssssssssssss!!!!!!!

10:01: Great at-bats from the Yanks this inning, Pena’s failure notwithstanding. Jeter comes back from 0-2, works a 2-2 count and fouls off two.

10:01: Michael Kay uses the adjective “Jeterian” to describe Jeter’s earlier singles.

10:02: Three-run opposite field BOMB from Captain Clutch! “The ulimate Jeterian hit!” gushes Kay. 7-2 Yanks, and this baby is in the books! Ballgame over! Live blog over! The Yankees win! THEEEEEEEEEE YANKEES WIN!

EPILOGUE: Brian Bruney has the courage of a lion. He strikes out the side in ballsy fashion to finish off the Rays in the bottom of the ninth. This was a masterpiece from Burnett, and oh so necessary. You gotta love a guy who can sense when his team needs a lift, and delivers a gem. In a small way, I like to think he built off the energy from Swisher’s pitching performance yesterday. AJ was the man of the match, but let’s not forget another huge effort from Swish, and Gardner’s two clutch hits. Great win. Wouldn’t it be nice to win the rubber game Wednesday, and take a two-win streak into Thursday’s festivities…

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