Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A.J. Burnett Nearly Stung by Rays: No-Hitter Quickly Becomes Nail Biter

There was a quiet intensity surrounding A.J. Burnett before taking the mound on Tuesday night, and it was clear that it could develop into a special evening.

No one truly anticipated just how special it almost became in Tampa Bay.

Burnett vowed that he would pitch deep into his second start in pinstripes, almost going as far as to guarantee a night’s rest for his exhausted teammates in the bullpen.

Not only did Burnett follow through on that guarantee, he came just nine outs away from giving virtually his entire team a night off.

Armed with a 93-95 MPH fastball and knee-buckling curveball, Burnett added impeccable control in order to manipulate a potent Tampa Bay Rays lineup.

As innings quickly disappeared into the rearview mirror, a bright white zero remained on the scoreboard in the Rays’ hits column.

Burnett collected strikeout after strikeout with seemingly effortless velocity, and brought a mental approach to the mound which rivaled that of a perfectionist.

At one point during the game, Burnett was seen scolding himself for bouncing a curveball on a full count. He went as far as to call himself “stupid” for not relying on his two-seam fastball in that situation.

Aside from his electrifying stuff, Burnett brought an even more important asset to the starting rotation. It has not been witnessed in the Bronx since Roger Clemens left town with his tail between his legs.

Earlier in the game, Yankees OF Nick Swisher was buzzed up around his chin by a lively Matt Garza fastball.

As if Swisher’s subsequent home run was not enough payback, Burnett offered the same intimidating treatment to Rays superstar Evan Longoria.

The ability to fearlessly stand up for your teammates is a quality in a pitcher that earns immeasurable respect throughout the clubhouse.

Burnett carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning, with the Yankees poised for a simplistic victory in a game exhibiting a playoff atmosphere.

After three consecutive singles by Rays hitters to begin the inning, however, Burnett was left wondering if he had lost the game along with his no-hitter.

This often happens to pitchers who lose no-hitters late in ball games.

Burnett was in an unbreakable rhythm throughout his performance, and exerted a confidence and conviction most athletes refer to as “the zone.”

Once a pitcher is shocked back to reality after allowing his first hit, he is forced to try to regain the focus he had just seconds earlier.

Burnett was now forced into the stretch for only the second time in the game, which helps to breed a pitcher’s sudden discomforts.

With runners on first and third and no outs, Burnett was given an early Christmas present by Pat Burrell.

Burrell was given a green light on a 3-0 fastball, and hit a lazy fly ball to right field. Though the out lead to the game’s tying run, it helped to calm Burnett’s nerves.

Five outs later, Burnett had finished off a masterful eight-inning pitching performance.

The Yankee offense resurrected itself in the latter innings, ensuring that a win could not escape Burnett for a second time.

The game ended in a 7-2 Yankees victory, and improved Burnett’s early season record to 2-0.

Though the final score looks convincing and uneventful, countless viewers began popping blood pressure medication at around 9:30 PM EST.

The Yankees have improved to .500 in the standings, and are right where they had hoped to be. They are staring eye-to-eye with Tampa Bay, and looking down at the Red Sox below them.

Surprisingly, the Yankees still lie in third place in the league’s toughest division behind the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles.

April baseball…you have to love it.

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