10/20/2003 12:19 PM ET
Britt not burned by pitch count
Southpaw threw 150 pitches in 1983 ALCS Game 4
CHICAGO -- Following the Cubs' elimination last Wednesday from the National League Championship Series, by virtue of three straight Florida victories, criticism was heaped upon manager Dusty Baker for his handling of his pitching staff.
Specifically, Baker was thought to have worked ace Mark Prior too long in Game 2, with the Cubs holding a 10-run lead. Prior finished with 116 pitches over seven innings on that particular night, but imagine what sort of grief Baker would have received if the young right-hander’s pitch total had grown to 150.
Former White Sox left-hander Britt Burns can relate to that postseason number.
In Game 4 of the 1983 American League Championship Series, Burns threw his 149th pitch to retire John Shelby for the first out in the top of the 10th inning during a scoreless tie with Baltimore. On pitch No. 150, reserve outfielder Tito Landrum launched a towering home run into the left-field upper deck at old Comiskey Park for a 1-0 lead.
Two runs and three White Sox outs later, the season was over for the South Siders, eliminated by the eventual World Champion Orioles. Burns’ night came to a close following Landrum’s home run, manager Tony LaRussa yanking the left-hander after one of the greatest and most overlooked pitching efforts in postseason history.
Twenty years later, Burns doesn’t focus on the Landrum home run, the pitch he threw to the Baltimore right-hander or the harsh season-ending loss. Instead, he remembers the great three or four hours of competition against a championship-caliber team.
“I certainly didn’t care at the time how many pitches I had thrown and had no idea how they even got to 150 for my total,” said Burns from Arizona, where he is serving as the pitching coach for the Grand Canyon Rafters in the Fall League. “Tony (LaRussa) used to tell us to go as hard as you can for as long as you can.
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
“At that point, I was kind of running on adrenaline, but there was no way I was coming out of the game unless I blew it. The thing that stands out after all these years is the opportunity to perform with everything on the line and prove I could be myself in that pressure situation and not panic.”
Burns was part of an incredible White Sox pitching staff in 1983 that included LaMarr Hoyt, the American League Cy Young winner, Richard Dotson and Floyd Bannister. There also were great sluggers on the team such as Greg Luzinski, Ron Kittle and Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk.
Jim Leyland, who went on to manage the Marlins to the 1997 championship, was a coach for LaRussa. Burns was surprised to hear that Leyland had no interest in the current White Sox managerial opening, despite Leyland conveying his continued retirement message during a 20-year reunion dinner for the 1983 squad at Ditka’s in Chicago during this past season.
“I thought Jim might be attracted to the White Sox job,” Burns said of Leyland. “But he seems to be enjoying what he’s doing now, and it allows him more family time.
“You have your day in the sun and priorities change. You gain more clarity on what matters and what’s important.”
Burns also crossed paths with Ozzie Guillen, the former White Sox shortstop currently coaching third for the Marlins, who is expected to be a strong candidate for the managerial opening once the World Series comes to a close. In Burns’ estimation, Guillen might be better suited for a young, rebuilding team, as opposed to the veteran squad general manager Kenny Williams has talked about bringing back.
“That would be a perfect opportunity to let a young manager grow with a young ball club,” said Burns of Guillen. “But the White Sox are in a situation where they are good enough to win the Central Division.
“For me, you need to bring experienced leadership into the ball club and take a shot at winning while you have that collection of players in house,” Burns added.
The talented All-Star, who pitched from 1978-'85 with the White Sox and posted a 70-60 record with 39 complete games before a degenerative hip condition prematurely ended his career, has his sights set on coaching at the Major League level. Burns worked as the pitching coach for Triple-A Toledo in the Detroit organization this past season and will move to Lakeland in the Florida State League for the 2004 season.
Much like Burns’ take on Leyland’s situation, the new job will move him closer to his family in Melbourne, Fla. Prior to his work with Detroit, Burns was a coach in the Marlins’ system from 1993 to 2001, when a new ownership group took over.
Burns worked with current Major League pitchers such as Brad Penny, Nate Bump and A.J. Burnett, who was sidelined for the season by an arm injury. But it was right-hander Josh Beckett who made an immediate impression on Burns.
“This was the most advanced kid I had ever seen out of high school, and he has only matured physically and psychologically with time and experience,” said Burns of Beckett. “He loved to compete -- if anything, we needed to get him to back off and not try so hard.
“It was a no-brainer with this kid getting to this high level,” Burns added.
Beckett’s two-out shutout of the Cubs in Game 5, during which no opposing player reached second base, will rank as one of the more masterful LCS pitching performances ever delivered and single-handedly turned the momentum of the best-of-seven series. For sheer pressure, though, Burns’ day of work is rivaled by efforts such as Jack Morris’ 10-inning shutout for Minnesota against Atlanta in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series.
During the past two decades, Burns has met up with Landrum at a couple of different events. The fraternity shared by the two professional players usually leads them to talk about the great moment they took part in together, as opposed to memories as to who was the victor and who was vanquished.
Despite the 3-0 loss, Burns considers himself a champion to this very day.
“It was a great game, in which we came up a little short,” Leyland said of Burns’ pitching performance. “That’s all part of it. Sometimes, you have to tip your hat to the other guy.”
“This may sound selfish, and I know that there was an ‘L’ next to my name, which took me a little time to get over,” added Burns, of his six-hit, five-walk, eight-strikeout effort against Baltimore. “But it was the finest moment I ever had on the field.”
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
"This may sound selfish, and I know that there was an ‘L’ next to my name,
which took me a little time to get over. But it was the finest moment I ever had on the field.”
-- Britt Burns