The rumors are swirling that the Yankees are trying to deal A.J. Burnett to the Pirates before the season begins. This move makes a lot of sense. Burnett brings a whirlwind of distractions which would only mount if he found himself sitting in the bullpen instead of toeing the rubber every five games. With a trade seeming imminent, our very own Steve S. asks if signing A.J. was actually a mistake. For my part, I want to look in a different direction. As frustrating as the past two seasons have been, A.J. pitched well in 2009, which was as exciting a Yankee season as any I’ve seen. Here are three Burnett highlights I’ll always remember fondly.
Most fans would probably rate this as A.J.’s best performance, but for whatever reason I enjoyed watching the next two games on this list more. With that explanation out of the way, Game 2 of the 2009 World Series was, without a doubt, the most important start of Burnett’s career. Cliff Lee left casualties and broken dreams on the diamond in Yankee Stadium in game 1. The mood of Yankee fans turned sour quickly after the team had lost only two games through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Losing game 2 at home would have almost certainly spelled a seven game series, if not imminent defeat in Philadelphia. Instead, good A.J. shows up in a big way. Burnett allows just four hits, two walks and one run in seven innings of work. Hideki Matsui and Mark Teixeira lent him a hand with a homer apiece, as the Yankees won the first of three consecutive World Series victories.
This remains possibly the most exciting game I’ve seen since game seven of the 2003 ALCS. The 2009 World Series seems so inevitable in hind sight, but coming into the playoffs the Yankees had to get a serious monkey off their backs to show that the bad old days of the mid 2000′s were truly over. If Alex Rodriguez doesn’t hit a booming two-run bomb off Joe Nathan in the bottom of the ninth to tie the score, that may never happen. No one will overlook A-Rod’s homer, or the screaming wall scraper Tex hit a few innings later, but people often forget that Burnett gave the Yankees 6 innings of one run, three hit baseball (with a ghastly five walks) to keep the team in the game. The Twins helped the cause with some serious base running errors, but none of that changes the fact that the Yankees needed A.J. to step up in a big way, and he did.
Sometimes regular season wins turn out to have outsize implications. With that in mind, the game the Yankees played against Boston on August 7th, 2009 was about as big an August game as you’ll find. The Yankees started the 2009 season with incredible expectations and then promptly lost their first eight games against the Boston Red Sox (and incredibly finished the regular season series against the team tied at nine games a piece).
The game the two teams played on August 6th was the first victory against the Red Sox the Yankees had that year. Trying to make a statement, the Yankees couldn’t have faced more pressure in Friday’s contest. It turned out to be one of the greatest regular season games ever played. Neither team scored until A-Rod slammed a two-run homer into the opposing bullpen in the bottom of the 15th inning. This was a statement win and the Yankees went on to win the next two games against Boston as well, sweeping the Red Sox in a four game series and permanently altering the momentum of the 2009 summer.
A.J. started that game against Josh Beckett. Beckett was positively dominant against the Yankees. He allowed just six base runners over seven innings. Burnett’s work wasn’t as pretty, but he lasted longer and matched Beckett zero for zero. A.J. gave the Yankees 7.2 innings of one hit ball, hanging on despite giving up six walks. It was the biggest pitching performance the Yankees had gotten up to that point in the season.
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