New beginning for A.J., Jorge at Fenway
Battery looking forward to getting back to work together
BOSTON -- The parallel was impossible to miss. Jorge Posada, having since journeyed through the World Series, Spring Training and destinations unknown, occupied the same exact spot he stood in last August 22, and again discussed his relationship with A.J. Burnett.
It was Sunday, hours before Posada would strap his chest protector on and handle CC Sabathia's first pitches of the season, but already Posada was being asked about the Yankees' Game 2 starter -- specifically, what went awry down the stretch last year and how the battery could be fixed in 2010.
"It's perfect," Posada said. "Let's get it out of the way right away. I'm looking forward to it."
Both players agree the low point of their communication came in that late summer game at Fenway Park, when they clashed over pitch selection -- Burnett was fond of his curveball, Posada thought the Red Sox were sitting on it -- and Burnett was hammered for nine runs in five innings.
The snapshot of that game endures -- Burnett stalking near the back of the mound, flipping his arms outward and screaming, "Why? Why would you throw that pitch?" as David Ortiz circled the bases for a fifth-inning homer.
Later, Burnett explained that he'd thrown pitches that he "didn't have a lot of conviction" in. While some of the rift could have been a media creation, Posada would not start with Burnett after Sept. 1, spanning Burnett's last six starts in the regular season and five more in the postseason.
That all changed this spring, as Burnett's defacto personal catcher Jose Molina moved on to a new contract with the Blue Jays. Girardi said that he did not envision rookie Francisco Cervelli serving as an assigned backup; Burnett and Posada needed to work together, and they did.
When Burnett climbed a mound for the first time this spring in a bullpen behind George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., Posada was there to shake his hand. When Burnett wanted to make it through a Grapefruit League start using only his fastball and changeup, shaking off curveballs every time, Posada was with him.
And when Burnett had what Girardi thought was his smartest start of the spring on March 27 against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., overcoming a lack of stuff early to survive 6 2/3 innings, Posada had the gear on.
"It's helped big time, especially the past couple of starts of the spring, when he's caught," Burnett said. "I've noticed he's been a lot more confident back there, and that makes me comfortable."
Girardi said that he was pleased to see how Burnett and Posada came to camp ready to work, but said that he thought the coverage of their clash had been overblown. Girardi used Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson as examples of other pitchers who had been caught by personal catchers in years past.
"For me, I think it took on a bigger picture because we're in New York," Girardi said. "It was an emotional time, and fighting for the division and nearing the playoffs, it became a big story. As far as them having a problem, I wasn't concerned about that. I didn't necessarily see a huge problem."
Of course, it certainly appeared that there might have been one in that 14-1 loss to the Red Sox back in August, as well as the April 25 start where Burnett let a 6-0 lead vanish. Posada knew it, and he made sure to seek Burnett out behind closed doors in the cramped visiting clubhouse at Fenway.
Posada said that points were exchanged in that Aug. 26 discussion, but the main topic was making sure that the results of that one start would not affect them going forward. Of the decision not to pair Burnett and Posada during October, Posada pointed to Girardi and not Burnett.
"He wanted me to be back there behind during the playoffs," Posada said. "I mean, he told me. I think we're happy with the outcome, though. We won a lot of ballgames last year and I'm happy with that."
So now they get a second chance to make this work. Posada said that one of the main challenges of handling Burnett is keeping his head in the game.
"He's very critical of himself. He's going to be a perfectionist," Posada said. "He's going to be a guy that's tough on himself. We don't have a problem with that, but he needs to understand that he's got to back down a little bit sometimes and look at the big picture -- how's the score of the game, how things are going. Sometimes he's winning the ballgame and his emotions are taking over. We want him to stay focused."
Burnett believes that he may have just been too emotionally amped for the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, which was surprising because he had experienced success against Boston and in Fenway Park in years past. Not so in 2009, as he was 0-2 with an 8.85 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox.
While stomping into Fenway is no picnic for any pitcher, Burnett said that he thought he was "overdoing it" and not getting ahead of batters in 2009.
"Do you chalk it up to, 'He got too involved in the rivalry?'" Girardi said. "I don't know. Do you chalk it up to, 'He just had a bad year?' I don't know. Obviously we're going to be able to find out."
As part of Burnett's preparation for Tuesday's start, he planned on digging into the video archives and examining footage of those 2008 starts against Boston -- when Burnett was 2-0 with a 2.60 ERA in four starts for the Blue Jays.
"I'll watch last year's too, but I'm going to watch '08 last," Burnett said. "If I leave a game and I don't know what the problem was, I'll go review it. I think we all know what happened last year. I'd rather see myself doing good, executing the right pitches at the right times against these guys."
So would the Yankees.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.