ATLANTA -- When you think about the great pitchers on the Atlanta Braves staff, John Burkett is definitely not the first name that comes to mind. But as he's proven time and time again this year, Burkett has been as solid as any other pitcher on the storied staff.
|Including his 6 1/3-inning, two-run, six-hit effort on Friday, Burkett is 2-0 with a 2.34 ERA in division series starts.
On Friday afternoon at Turner Field, Burkett continued his fairy-tale season by earning the win in the Braves 6-2 victory over the Astros that clinched the National League Division Series sending him to his first-ever League Championship Series.
"This is something I'm looking forward to," Burkett said of the NLCS. "All of the other teams, I have been on have been beaten in the division series."
But that wasn't because of Burkett. Including his 6 1/3-inning, two-run, six-hit effort on Friday, Burkett is 2-0 with a 2.34 ERA in division series starts. His first start came in the Rangers first-ever playoff game in of all places Yankee Stadium in front of 57,602 fans. But Burkett was up to the challenge that evening allowing just two runs in a complete-game victory.
"I've always felt I can pitch in the big game," Burkett said. "I handle my emotions well and that is important in big games."
Burkett was in complete control on Friday. The only two runs he allowed came in the seventh on a two-run homer by Daryle Ward.
"I've always said that when I can locate my pitches I will be alright," Burkett said. "I'm living proof that you don't have to throw hard to have success in this game."
Burkett allowed just three hits to the first five hitters of the Astros dangerous lineup. A double by Moises Alou accounted for the only extra-base hit that Burkett allowed to that dangerous set of hitters. His mastery of those bats seemed to be a continuation of what Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine had done in the first two games of the Series.
"I just took the attitude that I wasn't going to give in to anyone," Burkett said. "I was going to make them hit my pitch."
That's the same theory that has made Glavine a great pitcher throughout the years. Burkett has said many times that he has learned a great deal from watching Glavine. But at the same time, Glavine has gained lots of respect for Burkett.
"I think all of us expect Burkett to go out and pitch a great game," Glavine said. "We know he will keep us in the ballgame and give us a chance to win."
This year the Braves didn't take advantage of many of those those opportunities. In 14 of his 34 starts, the Braves scored two or fewer runs. Consequently, Burkett's 3.04 ERA came with a 13-13 record.
"If we'd have scored him any runs, he'd have been a 20-game winner," Glavine said.
Those are pretty nice words coming from a two-time Cy Young Award winner. But Glavine isn't the only multiple Cy Young Award winner tossing praise toward Burkett.
"The guy knows how to pitch," Greg Maddux said. "He doesn't get rattled out there. He pitches his ballgame and doesn't let you dictate what he's going to do."
Based on recent success, there's a good chance he's just going to give his team a chance to win, especially the big ones.
Mark Bowman is the site reporter for AtlantaBraves.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org