In total, A.J Burnett’s run with the Yankees did not go wonderfully. He had a good season in 2009, right after signing a five-year deal with the team, but things began to go downhill after that. Despite occasionally showing flashes of why the Yankees signed him, he struggled in 2010 and ‘11, leading to an essential salary dump trade with the Pirates before the 2012 season.
However before things started to go downhill, he put in a masterful performance that arguably saved the season and turned the 2009 World Series in the Yankees’ favor.
Final Score: Yankees 3, Phillies 1
Game MVP: A.J. Burnett
Game 1 of the 2009 World Series did not go as the Yankees would’ve hoped. Ace CC Sabathia wasn’t bad, but allowed two runs in seven innings, with both coming on a pair of Chase Utley home runs. The bullpen combined to allow four runs over the last two innings, putting the game mostly out of reach, especially considering how the Yankees were hitting. The Yankees’ offense was completely held in check by Phillies starter Cliff Lee, not managing a run until the ninth inning when it was already too late. The indelible image of that game was Lee very casually making a play on a pop up, not even having to leave the mound. While there was still plenty of series left to go, the vibes weren’t great after the loss.
Needing a win before the series shifted back to Philadelphia, the Yankees sent Burnett to the hill. Burnett had been good in his first two starts of the postseason, but had struggled in his most recent one, allowing six runs in Game 5 of the ALCS against the Angels. It what was shaping up to be arguably the most important game of the season, the Yankees needed a big performance, and early on it seemed in doubt. While he mostly cruised through the first inning, Burnett ran into some trouble in the second. A two-out ground-rule double from Raúl Ibañez proved costly as Matt Stairs followed that up with a RBI single.
Burnett bounced back after that, working around runners in both the third and fourth innings, but the Yankees’ offense was still unable to get much going against the Phillies’ pitching. This time, it was old enemy Pedro Martínez who was holding the Bombers in check. The Yankees finally got something going when Mark Teixeira led off the fourth with a homer.
Two innings later, the Yankees took their first lead of the series with another solo shot. This time it was Hideki Matsui, who gave a little taste of what was still to come in the series.
However, the lead was still a narrow one and Burnett didn’t have a ton of wiggle room. Things could’ve gotten bad for him back in the fifth when he allowed a double to Carlos Ruiz just before the top of the Phillies’ order was set to come to the plate. However, he got Jimmy Rollins to strike out and Shane Victorino to pop up. He followed that up with two-straight 1-2-3 innings and in general retired 11 of the last 12 batters he faced. His day would end after that as Mariano Rivera replaced him for the eighth.
The performance would go down as by far Burnett’s biggest moment as a Yankee. In seven innings, he allowed one run on four hits and two walks while striking out nine. He also did all that while pitching in a one-run or tied game the entire time. For all the down parts that happened over the rest of Burnett’s tenure in the Bronx, you could make the argument that he had the most important game of the 2009 season.
Before Rivera took the mound, the Yankees got him an insurance run. Jerry Hairston and Melky Cabrera knocked out Martínez with two singles to start the bottom of the seventh. Chan Ho Park then came in, but Jorge Posada added another single to score Hairston and give the Yankees some breathing room.
In the eighth, Rivera got into some trouble when he issued a one-out walk to Rollins and a single to Victorino. That brought the potential go-ahead run to the plate in the form of the Yankees’ Game 1 tormentor in Utley. However, Rivera managed to induce an inning-ending double play. Then in the ninth, Ibañez kept the Phillies alive with a two-out double for Stairs, who had their only RBI on the day. Rivera eventually got Stairs to strike out, sealing a much needed 3-1 Yankees’ win.
A 2-0 series deficit wouldn’t necessarily have been a death blow for the Yankees, but it sure would’ve been hard to come back from, especially when they then would’ve had to go to Philadelphia, probably not feeling great about things. Instead, A.J. Burnett helped them get there at 1-1, setting up the rest of the series, which you may or may not continue reading about over the next couple days.