It happens every few years that a pitcher walks off the field, and there is that overriding sense that they have thrown their last pitch in a Jays uniform. There was Jimmy Key in 1992, or Pat Hentgen in 1999. Each time, we find ourselves holding out some sort of hope that maybe they'll be back, someway or somehow. Experience tells us that it rarely happens.
And so, we watched last night as A.J. Burnett pitched a dilly of a game against the Yankees' B squad, then strode off the mound for what in all likelihood was his last appearance as a Jay at the Rogers Centre.
Over his three years with the franchise, A.J. was a big huggy bear who was often the first Jay off the bench to offer a loving clinch to whatever pitcher was walking off the field. So it made sense that the entire expanded roster lined up last night to welcome A.J. after his 11 strikeout performance with a last meaningful hug for the enigmatic hurler.
(And was it just us, or did Roy Halladay's hug linger a little longer than most? Doc can pull that off, because he's twice the man that we'll ever be. But we digress.)
Last night's swan song might have been a little easier were it not Shaun Marcum's injury. We were pretty comfortable in the notion that A.J. was going to bugger off and get ridiculous money from someone, and that the Jays would be better off plowing those sorts of dollars into a hitter. But with Marcum out until 2010, the remote notions that maybe (just maybe) the team could make a play to keep him here for a few more years started to get floated out there.
And damn it if we didn't start to internalize them ourselves. We're a sucker that way.
We don't exactly know what to make of A.J. Burnett's stay in Toronto. His arm troubles through his first two seasons were agonizing and suspect (remember the "sharks in my elbow" comments?), but at the same time, Burnett was the sort of pitcher who could bring you out of your seat with his stuff.
Moreover, he was a character and brought some semblance of personality to a team of taciturn strong silent types. Sure, we pissed on Burnett's shaving cream pies and his races against various Mexican food products, but we quietly laughed along with his antics. It was (dare we say it?) just A.J. being A.J..
If he's truly gone (and it is ludicrous that we are even holding out hope that he'll stay), then we're going to miss him.