Season comes down to A.J.

A.J. Burnett looks on from the dugout against A.J. Burnett looks on from the dugout against the Detroit Tigers. (Oct. 2, 2011) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Anthony Rieber Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998 and in his current position since July 4, ...

DETROIT

Backs to the wall. Season on the brink. Panic in the streets. All hands on deck.

Whatever you want to call it, the Yankees are facing the end of their season Tuesday night after a 5-4 loss to the Tigers in ALDS Game 3 Monday night at Comerica Park.

At the exact moment that Jose Valverde struck out Derek Jeter for the final out, one name must have flashed into the minds of Yankees fans from Montauk to Manhattan:

A.J. Burnett.

The Yankees' season comes down to A.J. Burnett.

No worries, right?

"I'm going to bring everything I've got," Burnett said before the game. "And just let A.J. loose out there."

Oh, boy. If Burnett tames the Tigers Tuesday night, the series will shift back to New York for a deciding Game 5 on Thursday.

"It's a good spot for him," Russell Martin said. "Just go out there and give it all you've got and he gets a 'W' and becomes our savior.''

Asked after Monday night's game how he felt about starting Burnett, Joe Girardi said: "I feel good about it. I feel good about what A.J. is going to do for us.''

It's more likely that Girardi will have an early hook and an itchy trigger finger. It's more likely that the game will look like that regular-season finale against Tampa Bay in which the skipper trotted out 11 pitchers.

Burnett was one of those pitchers. He faced one batter in what was supposed to be a tuneup for a middle-relief role in the first round, maybe a start in the second.

But then there was a rainstorm that wasn't expected, causing a suspended game that messed up the Yankees' pitching plans -- a happenstance that forced them to add a fourth starter when they clearly didn't want to.

In some ways, those clouds were like the midges that swarmed Joba Chamberlain in 2007 in Cleveland. A force of nature that blew into town and took the Yankees' best chance with it.

Because in this case, it took away CC Sabathia's comfort zone. For whatever reason, Sabathia hadn't displayed sharpness for some time. Pitching two innings Friday and starting two days later against Justin Verlander didn't help him find it.

He was wild. He was unhappy with umpire Gerry Davis' strike zone. The Yankees gave him a lead with two runs off Verlander in the first, and Sabathia couldn't hold it.

Maybe Valverde knew what he was talking about when he declared the ALDS over Sunday after the Tigers won one game against the Yankees.

There's a good chance the Tigers' closer was more talking off the cuff than giving a meaningful opinion. Or maybe he was thinking this:

We have Verlander going in Game 3. You don't.

And this:

You have Burnett going in Game 4. We don't.

Verlander wasn't the difference and he still won Game 3. It's all bad omens for the Yankees right now.

Getting to Verlander and still losing. The rain on Friday. The season in Burnett's hands. The season on the brink that could be over Tuesday night.

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