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Never a doubt: I believed in A.J. Burnett all along

Rob Iracane
Big League Stew

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OK, I admit it. Tuesday's column where I lost my religion and threw faith out the window was just an attempt at a reverse jinx that was written just to save face in case A.J. Burnett blew up on the mound and cost the New York Yankees the series. And it worked!

[Related: Against all odds, Burnett saves the Yankees]

To be sure, I believed all along that Burnett could succeed; I did not believe that Burnett would succeed. If I was silly enough to put my faith in the pitching performance of a stranger, then I'd probably be silly enough to bet my money on sporting events. That's just ill-advised confidence.

I finished the column by saying this:

So to the desperate Yankees fans, hungry for a reason to believe that Tuesday night's game won't be the final one of the 2011 season, attaching their hopes to the idea that A.J. Burnett is going to meet his level of talent and shut down the Tigers, I say, "get real." If you want to have faith in one thing, know that Detroit's starting pitcher, the inexperienced Rick Porcello with a similarly super-sized ERA, is just as likely as Burnett to flop miserably.

Well, I was wrong on both counts. Burnett was by no measure dominant, tallying more walks than strikeouts, while Porcello took the loss, allowing four runs in six innings. But neither pitcher flopped miserably, or really at all! Yankees manager Joe Girardi ended Burnett's night with the team up by three during the sixth inning as the Tigers were making good contact, but that was before any meltdown could occur and shrink the lead. {YSP:MORE}

Lucky for A.J., his terrible control in the first inning that put three Tigers hitters on base with a walk didn't cost him a run, thanks to Curtis Granderson's ridiculous inning-ending catch, one of two eye-popping defensive plays by the Yankees center fielder.

[Video: Granderson burns ex-team with two big catches]

Burnett even had his big curveball working well, getting four swings-and-misses with the breaking pitch and inducing a whopping 13 groundball outs, as per Mike Axisa at River Ave Blues. In the fourth, after Burnett gave up a homer and a double, the first two Tigers hits of the night, A.J. calmed himself down, entered his zen pitching mode, and struck out two batters to end the inning.

After being pulled from the game, Burnett thanked Girardi for his confidence by giving him a whack on the tuchus with his glove:

"That's probably the first time I've ever smacked a manager on the butt, Burnett said. "It was probably a little thank-you for all the stuff he's done for me."

Girardi's gamble to send the struggling Burnett to the mound on Tuesday night proved to be a smart move. But if the Yankees advance to the ALCS to face the Texas Rangers, and if A.J. Burnett is the scheduled starting pitcher in Game 4, I still won't put my precious faith in him. Why mess with something that works?

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