Overlooked, somewhat understandably, in the Pirates' season-ending loss to St. Louis Wednesday night was another episode in the A.J. Burnett saga, also known as, "I Am Special."
Astonishingly, Burnett was not available to pitch.
Since when isn't every rested pitcher available for an elimination game? Francisco Liriano, who pitched Sunday, was available. Why wasn't Burnett, who hadn't pitched since Thursday?
The pre-game explanation of manager Clint Hurdle didn't make a lot of sense.
He said, "Liriano could be available. And A.J., in his routine, I mean, one of the reasons we didn't pitch him here because some of the challenges, but he goes through an extensive routine to get ready. If we're going to put Liriano in play, which we've decided if we have to, we will. We're holding A.J. back for Game 1. Everybody else will be available."
There's no way Burnett's 'routine' should have prevented him from being available. When the decision was made to start Gerrit Cole, Burnett should have been told to be certain he is ready to pitch in relief. That he was not, raises questions about the level of his unhappiness about being bypassed for this crucial start. To be disappointed is understandable. To allow it to fester to the point the media was referencing the fact he was not happy is not.
Burnett fashions himself a team leader. If that is so, he should have pushed his disappointment aside and pronounced himself as fully on board with Cole getting the start.
Every single barometer pointed to Cole. He had pitched better than Burnett in the final month of the season. He had pitched better against St. Louis. He had pitched better in this postseason. True, Burnett has the edge in postseason experience but what kind of advantage is it when your postseason ERA is 6.37? When your 2013 postseason ERA is 31.59?
Compounding this lunacy was the suggestion from Hurdle that Burnett would start Game 1 of the NLCS, if the Pirates had won. That defies logic and unless Liriano pitched in Game 5, which was unlikely, he was the clear and obvious choice to pitch the first game in the NLCS.
This smacks of the catering Hurdle has done with Burnett and, presumably, the catering Burnett expected.
It also seems to be a fairly clear indication that Burnett, scheduled to be a free agent, will not be giving the Pirates any home-town discount if he decides to pitch next season.
Then there's this terrific passage from Gene Collier's Wednesday column, which opens with Hurdle describing the decision-making process in determining a Game 5 starter:
"'It's a difficult decision because [Burnett] has meant so much, we've asked so much of him while he's been here. A.J. wants the ball every day he's scheduled to pitch. That's one of the things that's gotten him to the point, this point in his career and having success that he's had.
'You want to treat men professionally. Sometimes, we don't agree on things.'
"Two minutes after that, Hurdle was returning to his office when he encountered Burnett walking the other way in the concourse outside the locker room. Neither man looked at the other, Burnett staring down at his phone as he walked in what was either a snub or, more likely, your standard cell-phone etiquette."
And maybe not.
First Published October 9, 2013 8:17 PM