(Sports Network) - A.J. Burnett hopes to put a miserable regular season behind him this evening when he takes the ball in Game 4 of the American League Championship Series trying to draw the New York Yankees even in the best-of-seven set against the Texas Rangers at Yankee Stadium.
Burnett went into last year's playoffs as the team's No. 2 starter, but he has yet to pitch this postseason following an awful year that saw the righty go 10-15 with a 5.26 earned run average.
"I mean, I'm not taking anything away [from this season] -- I'm not trying to ignore the year and say it wasn't a big deal," Burnett said of his career-high 15 losses. "It was a big deal."
He hasn't pitched since October 2 and was a miserable 1-7 with a 6.61 ERA in his final 12 starts.
"I haven't pitched in a long time, so I haven't struggled in a long time," Burnett said. "I feel like I'm where I need to be. It's been a long time since I've been on the mound, but I'm sharp and I expect things to go as 'normal A.J.'"
Burnett was 1-1 with a 5.27 ERA in five postseason starts for the Yankees last year, but pitched to a 1.86 ERA in his three outings in the Bronx.
"If you can understand it and really look at it and be honest with yourself, [you can learn from it]," Burnett said of his rocky season. "I don't ponder too much about what happened, but I've got a pretty good idea why. The thing is, it's the playoffs. It's October. So it brings the best and the worst out."
Burnett actually had some success against the Rangers this season, as he was 1-0 with a 2.50 ERA in three starts against them. For his career against Texas he is 4-3 with a 3.66 ERA in 12 games (11 starts).
No matter how Burnett pitches, though, New York's bats are going to have to be better than they were against Cliff Lee in Game 3 on Monday. Lee added to his spotless playoff resume and continued his mastery of the Yankees by outdueling postseason stalwart Andy Pettitte in Texas' 8-0 Game 3 victory.
Josh Hamilton's two-run homer in the first inning spotted Lee (3-0) with an early lead, and that was all the left-hander needed, as he tied a career-high with 13 strikeouts and allowed only two hits and one walk over eight innings for the Rangers, losers of 10 straight postseason games to New York before a Game 2 victory on Saturday.
The Rangers have homered in all eight postseason games, longer than any streak they had during the regular season.
"Any time you can get that deep in the game and not give up any runs in the postseason, that's huge," Lee said. "Josh hitting that home run in the first made things a lot easier, that's for sure."
Over the past two seasons, Lee has quickly established himself as the standard for pitching prowess in the playoffs. Texas' midseason acquisition became the third pitcher in MLB history to win his first seven playoff decisions and is the first pitcher with three games of 10-plus punchouts in one postseason.
Hamilton added a double in the ninth to jump-start a six-run inning that turned a two-run game into a lopsided rout.
Pettitte (1-1), unbeaten in his previous nine postseason starts, was sharp despite a 10-day rest between outings, yielding only five hits with no walks in seven innings for New York, which has dropped only two games at home the last two postseasons. Lee was the winning pitcher in both, with the other coming in Game 1 of the World Series while he was with the Phillies.
"We've played three great games and we can't wait to get the next game going," Rangers catcher Bengie Molina said. "It's a great feeling knowing [Lee's] going to spot the ball where you ask him. He's a dream come true for catchers. He's an amazing pitcher."
The Yankees have managed to hit just .194 so far in the ALCS and have struck out 30 times through the first three games.
Hoping to give the Rangers a two-game advantage this evening will be righty Tommy Hunter, who will be making his first-ever Yankee Stadium start.
"It's probably going to be loud," Hunter said. "I would expect it to be. You know, it's a baseball game. That's what these other guys keep telling you; all of us young guys. We probably have the youngest bullpen ever in the ALCS. I mean, probably. You know, just being out there with those guys, being out there with [Darren] Oliver, he pretty much says, 'It's just another game.'"
Hunter was 13-4 in the regular season, but was charged with the loss in Game 4 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay, as he allowed three runs (two earned) and six hits in four innings.
Hunter has faced the Yankees twice and is 0-1 against them with a 6.75 ERA.
"I mean, you know, there's a lot of tradition. Everybody knows that," Hunter said. "There's 20-some-odd world championships that have been won here. Everybody knows that. We would like to win our first. So you've got to go out there and you've got to play baseball, and as soon as you step in between the lines, it's still a game. You've just got to block it out."
The Yankees and Rangers split eight games during the regular season.