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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.
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.
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.
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.
Burnett signed an $82.5 million, five-year contract with New York as a free agent last winter and went 13-9 with a 4.04 ERA during the regular season, leading the AL with 97 walks. Normally quiet, he 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 Burnett 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.
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.
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2009 NATIONAL LEAGUE SERIES
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