Old Age, Pitching Rage Plague Yankees Starters Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett


Old Age, Pitching Rage Plague Yankees Starters Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett Now that A.J. Burnett has pulled a Kevin Brown (kind of), the Yankees better hope that that the outcome isn’t quite like it was the last time a starter put his hand through a wall. Or door.

In the first week in September in 2004, Brown punched a clubhouse wall in a fit of anger after a poor start and broke his hand, knocking himself out for three weeks. Brown did, however, have the courtesy to minimize the damage, breaking his non-pitching hand.

Burnett did not exhibit the same courtesy on Saturday.

After a two-run second inning against the Rays, a frustrated Burnett let loose in the clubhouse, pushing open the Plexiglas-covered double doors with a little more effort than necessary and lacerating both palms. Burnett then told manager Joe Girardi he cut the hand when he tripped down the clubhouse stairs, so Girardi sent him out for the third inning — a move he quickly regretted after Burnett hit Evan Longoria and allowed a single to Carlos Pena.

That was the end of his outing, and the end of the falling-down-the-stairs excuse.

"I got frustrated today and came in and double pushed the door very lightly and had a cut on my hand right above the wrist," Burnett told MLB.com after the game. "I'm just more embarrassed than anything. I apologize to my teammates and to New York. I've been so good at holding my emotions."

Though the team insists Burnett won’t miss a start and will be good to go on Friday against Kansas City, his tantrum could not have come at a worse time. The next afternoon, Andy Pettitte – the Yankees’ most reliable starter in the first half – was pulled in the third inning with a left groin strain and should miss four-to-five weeks.

"I've pitched through a lot of stuff, but there was no way. No way," Pettitte told ESPN.com. "Normally, I can pitch through anything but I was hurting pretty bad.''

Pettitte’s situation is similar to the one that afflicted Tim Wakefield during the second half of last year. Wakefield, coming off a spectacular first half in which he went 11-3 and earned his first All-Star selection, suffered a back injury in early July and wouldn’t pitch again in the regular season until Aug. 26. The Red Sox lost the person who had been their most dependable starter, and though Clay Buchholz picked up the slack admirably, the complexion of the team was dramatically different without Wakefield’s success.

This season, Pettitte defied his 38 years and had the best first half of his career, going 11-2 with a 2.70 ERA and a .234 opponents’ batting average. He upstaged CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes, only to suffer a massive setback in his first start of the second half.

Where New York’s story differs from Boston’s is that while Buchholz was waiting in the wings to take Wakefield’s place in the rotation, the Yankees will replace Pettitte with Sergio Mitre. The right-hander has been on the DL since June 15 and hasn’t pitched since June 4.

The Yankees have been the best team in baseball thus far in 2010, and just like last year, pitching has been their key to success. But when injuries like this start cropping up, it wears on a team, no matter how good its offense is at compensating. It happened to the Red Sox in 2006, but fortunately for New York, it’s only July 19. There’s still time before the trade deadline to fill in any necessary holes, and there’s still plenty of time for Pettitte to get back on his feet before the late-season push.

But until Pettitte regains his bearings, it would help the Yankees’ cause if their other starters could refrain from clubhouse tantrum-induced injuries.

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