10/15/2003 3:38 PM ET
Wind a factor, but Burkett survives
Wakefield stays in 'pen, available in Game 7
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
NEW YORK -- For Boston Red Sox starting pitcher John Burkett, the cold winds at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday afternoon smelled like trouble.
Optimism vs. Pessimism
The matchup: Red Sox starting pitcher John Burkett vs. sentiment that the start should go to knuckleballer Tim Wakefield with Boston facing elimination in Game 6.
The expectation: Burkett went into the game 0-6 with an 8.49 ERA in 11 career games against the Yankees. His numbers at Yankee Stadium are 0-3 with a 7.59 ERA in five games, four of them starts. Six of the 35 hits against him were homers.
The first hit on Wednesday was a homer by Jason Giambi. In addition to dealing with a team that has tormented him throughout his career, Burkett was dealing with a strong wind that changed directions often -- sometimes dangerously for him.
The result: Burkett also fell victim to a wind-blown Alfonso Soriano two-run double and was chased after 3 2/3 innings, making it his shortest career postseason appearance.
But the wind didn't blow only on Burkett.
His replacement, Bronson Arroyo, watched a Jorge Posada opposite-field fly ball sail over the wall in left. The breeze worked for Boston as well, as Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon homered, with Nixon's two-run shot providing insurance in the ninth inning.
The wind was no friend to Yankees losing pitcher Jose Contreras. Nomar Garciaparra's leadoff triple in the seventh was blown over the heads of Yankees center fielder Bernie Williams and left fielder Hideki Matsui. Garciaparra ended up with a "Little League home run" when Matsui's throw to third sailed wild. The play ignited a three-run inning that gave Boston a 7-6 lead.
As for Wakefield, his knuckler is available to dance during Game 7.
But for him, it felt like home.
Going into the game, which Boston won, 9-6, but took control of long after Burkett left, a strong wind that kept changing directions sparked a continuation of the debate over whether manager Grady Little made the right decision in starting Burkett instead of knuckleballer Tim Wakefield on one day's rest.
By the end, the answer to the debate was a definite maybe.
Alfonso Soriano knocked Burkett's first pitch for a fly ball that nearly reached the center-field wall. No. 3 hitter Jason Giambi parked a home run to left field. Burkett seemed OK in retiring eight of the next nine men he faced. But the fourth inning unraveled after a Bernie Williams groundout. By the time the dust settled, Burkett was out after 3 2/3 innings with five runs, three earned.
But the Sox won, and Wakefield is available for Game 7 in case Pedro Martinez struggles early or the Sox need help late.
Burkett didn't blame the conditions. It was a while ago, but he's accustomed to them.
"Actually, I looked at it as a positive," Burkett said. "I pitched so much of my career in San Francisco, and we had winds like this at Candlestick [Park]. So I was kind of watching the wind, seeing which pitches would keep the ball in the big part of the park."
He wound up not throwing nearly as many pitches as he wanted.
Burkett wasn't too unhappy after the game because of the result, but he wished he had thrown better in the fourth. The wind did play a role on one key play in the inning.
Burkett said Nick Johnson's RBI double to cut the difference to 4-2 was simply a bad pitch. With two down, he would have been out of the inning but Nomar Garciaparra misplayed a Karim Garcia grounder that should have been the third out.
The hit that chased Burkett, a two-run Alfonso Soriano double to left-center, was a combination of a pitch Burkett would like to have back and a wind he could do nothing about.
"My job after that [Garciaparra error] is to be able to get Soriano," he said. "I've got an open base and I'm able to make quality pitches, and I wasn't able to do that.
"That was a weird ball. It looked like it was going to center field and the wind just took it to left-center."
So the wind was his enemy at times, but he wanted to make it a friend. However, that would have required staying in the game longer.
"I definitely would have liked to have gone further than that," Burkett said. "To sit here and have pitched three innings and try to take any credit is kind of stupid. I just got hung up in that inning a little bit."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.