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Burkett ready for Game 4 challenge
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10/04/2003  6:21 PM ET 
Burkett ready for Game 4 challenge
Sox counting on veteran to stay alive in series
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John Burkett became a cornerstone for the Red Sox down the stretch of the regular season. (Charles Krupa/AP)
BOSTON -- The detractors were out in mass and John Burkett heard them.

There he was at the end of May with a 6.28 ERA and a contract that was expiring at the end of the season.

Combine the ERA, the contract status and his age (38 years old), and it wasn't hard to imagine Burkett getting his release before the season ended.

But Burkett -- who will take the mound for the Red Sox Sunday afternoon in Game 4 of this Division Series -- has been a fighter his whole career. How else would he have survived this long with a fastball that has rarely topped 85 miles-per-hour?

So he fought off those May and June critics the same way he's handled opposing hitters for all these years. He stepped on the mound every fifth day and used brains, heart and location, and the critics became silent.

    John Burkett   /   P
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 211
Bats/Throws: R/R

More info:
Player page

The man who wasn't supposed to last all season will step on the mound Sunday afternoon with the mere responsibility of saving his team's season.

Bring it on, says Burkett.

"You have to prepare like it's any other game," said Burkett, 2-1 lifetime in four postseason starts. "I only know one way to pitch. I throw an 85-mile-per-hour fastball and a curveball that I can control at times and that's what I'm going to try and do. I can't throw any harder. I can't try any harder. Every game I go out there, I give it everything I have."

He settled down in mid-June and became a cornerstone for the Red Sox down the stretch.

As for all that adversity Burkett faced a few months ago, he just looks at it as another challenge he overcame.

"My thought process every season when I come to Spring Training is to pitch well enough to get an opportunity to pitch big games at the end of the season. This season, I came to Spring Training ready to go, and unfortunately I struggled out of the gate," Burkett said. "There was a lot of talk about me being released and things like that earlier in the season.

"I just kept my mind about me and kept working to try to get to the point where I wanted to get. And here (I am) with an opportunity to win a playoff game, and I'm looking forward to it."
-- John Burkett

"I just kept my mind about me and kept working to try to get to the point where I wanted to get. And here (I am) with an opportunity to win a playoff game, and I'm looking forward to it."

Other veterans with 13 years of Major League service might have been insulted at the notion their job status was in question. But Burkett faced hurdles like this before ever stepping on a Major League field.

He toiled in the minor leagues for seven seasons in the Giants' system, wondering if he'd ever make the leap to the Major Leagues. By 1993, he was a 22-game winner for a San Francisco team that won 103 games.

In 2000, the Devil Rays thought so little of Burkett that they released him in Spring Training.

But then he re-invented himself for two years in Atlanta, earning that two-year, $11 million contract to Boston.

Burkett said he asked Sox GM Theo Epstein in June if he was going to get released.

"He was honest with me and told me up front if something was going to happen, he was going to let me know," Burkett said.

It never came to that. Burkett wouldn't allow it.

And now he hopes he gets the chance to pitch a few more big games. He might retire at the end of the season. He might sign somewhere else. The odds are that he won't be back in Boston, as the Red Sox will likely find someone younger -- and yes, less expensive -- to fill his role.

He's not thinking about that now though. He's just thinking about trying to get Pedro Martinez the ball for Game 5.

The Red Sox will be happy to have a trusted veteran on the hill.

"He has been very consistent for us," said Sox manager Grady Little. "Burkett is a competitor, a battler."

"Burky is one of the (gutsiest) pitchers I've ever been around," said Sox right fielder Gabe Kapler. "He wants the ball all the time, any situation, against any pitcher, any lineup. We love having John Burkett on the mound no matter what the situation is."

Ian Browne is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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