New York A.J. Burnett hardly got any attention — until he got the win.
Almost an afterthought in his matchup with colorful star Pedro Martinez, Burnett challenged Philadelphia right from the start Thursday night and gave the New York Yankees the confident pitching performance they desperately needed.
Throwing first-pitch strikes to his first 11 batters, Burnett overpowered a dangerous Phillies lineup and led New York to a 3-1 victory that tied the World Series at one game apiece.
“After last night, I just wanted to come out and set the tone early and be very aggressive,” he said. “My key was strike one tonight I think. I threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, and that allowed me to open up and expand the zone after that.”
No longer will Burnett be considered the weak link in the Yankees’ rotation between CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. The right-hander has his first win in four postseason starts — and this one was huge.
“It wasn’t pressure. I knew it was a big game. It’s no lie. It was the biggest game I’ve ever thrown for this team. But at the same time you can’t let that affect you, and I tried not to let it affect me,” Burnett said. “I knew I had a big task ahead of me with Pedro on the mound.”
After losing with their ace, Sabathia, on the mound in Game 1, the Yankees turned to Burnett in a crucial situation. That left plenty of fans nervous — Burnett can be erratic, and he lacks a playoff pedigree.
But, boy, did he deliver.
“I think it’s probably the best he pitched all year,” teammate Derek Jeter said. “He’s capable of completely shutting down good offenses on any given night. He’s capable of doing this every game.”
The hard-throwing Burnett struck out nine — fanning slugger Ryan Howard three times — and walked only two in seven stellar innings. Outpitching a wily Martinez, he allowed four hits, including Matt Stairs’ run-scoring single with two outs in the second.
Burnett recovered quickly, striking out Pedro Feliz, and was in charge the rest of the way. After Carlos Ruiz’s fifth-inning double, he retired his final eight batters and handed the lead directly to closer Mariano Rivera for a six-out save.
Exactly what the Yankees were looking for.
“Performing the way he did on this stage is not easy, and he proved that he belongs here,” catcher Jose Molina said.
Burnett was a member of the Florida Marlins when they beat the Yankees in the 2003 World Series, but he sat out due to an injury.
This time, he’s in the middle of all the action.