Burnett delivers for Yankees in crucial Game 2

NEW YORK (AP) — 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 with an injury.This time, he’s in the middle of all the action.”It makes it all better,” Burnett said. “Nothing compares to today. That was the (most fun) I’ve ever had on the baseball field.”Often injured in the past, Burnett signed an $82.5 million, five-year contract with New York as a free agent last winter and stayed healthy all season. He went 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA in 33 starts covering 207 innings, but led the AL with 97 walks.Normally quiet, Burnett began a ritual of pasting teammates in the face with whipped cream pies after walk-off wins. Fans fell in love with the playful tradition, but they were waiting for him to come through on the mound in October.Admittedly antsy before big games, Burnett had a chance to clinch the AL championship series in Game 5 last week, but he gave up four runs in the first inning to Los Angeles. When the Yankees rallied to take the lead, Burnett failed to put away the Angels in the seventh. Pettitte finally ended the series in Game 6.This time, Burnett quieted the Phillies all night.”Sometimes you’re going to beat him. Sometimes he’s going to beat himself. And sometimes, he’s going to beat you,” Philadelphia leadoff hitter Jimmy Rollins said.After saying on Wednesday that he looked forward to his matchup with Martinez, Burnett was in control the whole way. When he fanned Howard with a breaking ball in the third, stranding two runners, the pitcher pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.”He pitched great and you tip your cap to him today,” Stairs said. “You usually try to be patient, but he threw strike one a lot tonight. He went to his bread-and-butter, that backdoor curveball. It’s impossible to hit.”Afterward, Burnett brought his two boys to the podium in the interview room, 8-year-old A.J. Jr., and 5-year-old Ashton.”I wanted to come out and feed off this crowd and feed off the energy and not try to just be calm,” Burnett said. “I think I’ve done a good job of being calm in situations, but I wanted to make it a point to come out with some fire tonight, and I think I did that.”

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